This year, 2023, the Chinese Spring Festival (known as Chinese New Year in the diaspora) falls on Sunday, 22 January. It marks the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese almanac.

Singapore has two days of public holidays to mark this event. The first day being a Sunday, which is not a normal working day, there will be a replacement public holiday, making it a three-day stretch. Generally, businesses in Singapore will be closed from Sunday 22 January to Tuesday, 24 January 2023.

For many migrant workers in the construction, marine and process sectors, this will be true for them, and may be the longest stretch of non-working days they enjoy through a calendar year.

For domestic workers, it will probably prove a different story.

Especially if a domestic worker is in an ethnic Chinese household, she will likely be required every day either to help the family receive visitors or to assist the elderly or youngest members of the family as they go out to temples or visit relatives. Moreover, since the first day of the festival falls on a Sunday, which, for many domestic workers is their regular day off, employers may be asking their workers to give up that rest day in return for a little extra cash.

Some employers may accord their domestic employees a day off in lieu (or two), to be taken at a later date. If so, it would be a matter of favour, for the right to public holidays is enshrined in the Employment Act, but domestic workers are excluded from the scope of this piece of legislation.

In the Interpretation section of the Employment Act, it says,

“employee” means a person who has entered into or works under a contract of service with an employer and includes a workman, and any officer or employee of the Government included in a category, class or description of such officers or employees declared by the President to be employees for the purposes of this Act or any provision thereof, but does not include any of the following:
(a) any seafarer;
(b) any domestic worker;
(c) [Deleted by Act 55 of 2018] (d) any person belonging to any other class of persons whom the Minister may, by notification in the Gazette, declare not to be employees for the purposes of this Act;

The Employment Act is also the legislation that sets maximum working hours and creates the right to overtime pay at a rate not less than 1.5 times the basic salary. It also prescribes entitlement to annual leave.

By dint of their exclusion from this Act, domestic workers do not enjoy these protections.

We have all heard the argument that in domestic work, one needs to have flexible hours. But so do employees in the healthcare sector, in transport and security services, in cleaning and sanitation trades. Yet, employees in these sectors are covered by the Employment Act. Employers have to roster accordingly and provide days off in lieu.

“But in those businesses, they have several employees to roster around. I only have one domestic worker.”

Is that justification for having her at one’s beck and call very hour and very day of the week? What about doing some things yourself?

This only shows how weak the argument is for keeping domestic workers outside the ambit of the Employment Act.

For the longest time, TWC2 has called for domestic workers to be included. In the meantime, we call on employers to respect the spirit of the legislation and grant their domestic workers two days off in lieu, following each Chinese New Year.