~ By Ghui ~
Domestic helpers play an important role in our society. In fact, I would go on to say that in many instances, they are the backbone of the family. By performing household chores and looking after the children, they free parents to go out into the workforce. In many families, domestic helpers also look after the aged who require full time care, lifting a heavy load off the shoulders of over stretched adults who have to worry about both their aged parents and their own children of school going age. Given the stresses of modern day life, the contribution of the domestic maid cannot be overlooked.
She is far away from home and more often than not, it would be the first time she has been outside the country of her birth. Usually, she would also be very young. She lives where she works and many a time, has no control over her working hours or the chores she has to perform. To top it off, her remuneration is not high either. All these added together, places the domestic helper in a very vulnerable position indeed.
Maids being abused, falling off buildings and being overworked are becoming too common for comfort. In light of the recent spate of domestic helpers falling to their death, a new safety awareness programme for foreign domestic helpers is being introduced and will kick off at the end of June.
While I applaud this initiative, I wonder if it will really solve the problem? As already established above, the domestic helper is in a vulnerable position. Living under her employer’s roof, she has limited choice over what chores she performs. Even, if she did not want to, say, wash the windows, she may find herself hard pressed to agree anyway. So should the safety course not be compulsory for employers? After all, they are the arbiters of their helper’s work scope and there would be no point for an employee to unilaterally understand safety if the employer does not similarly understand the same.
Besides, is understanding safety really the issue? I believe most people with common sense can see that cleaning the external windows of high rise flats is dangerous. Do we really need a class to teach us this?
The crux of the issue is for employers to understand that they are responsible for the safety of their employee. In the same way, corporate employers insure their employees, employers of domestic helpers should undertake to protect their employee, the maid, to the best of their ability. This would include, amongst other things, ensuring that their employee has sufficient rest time, three square meals and a safe environment in which to work. This is the real lesson that needs to be grasped and that should be the message that is driven home – HARD.