Signed: Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

Singapore made a significant change to its laws recently, after years of lobbying from human rights groups: from next year, live-in maids (most of whom are migrant workers from Indonesia or the Philippines) will be given one day off a week by law.

(You might be a bit surprised to find that under current Singaporean law, “foreign domestic workers” can legally be made to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for a wage that would be sub-minimum-wage if Singapore had a minimum wage. Well – now you know.)

But there are people who are not happy that they can no longer work their maids seven days a week! And Pravda’s letters page is having a field day with letters from idiots who don’t sound like the sort of people you’d want to work for anyway. Here’s my favourite, from an ST reader who bravely chose not to be anonymous:

I READ with disbelief that the Government has decided that all maids will get a weekly day off from next year (‘Weekly day off for maids a must from next year’; yesterday).
It might seem like a fair and simple decision, but have the policymakers considered the unintended consequences?
Let me list a few:

[…] Families will find it harder to employ maids as most will want their days off. While it may be argued that some maids prefer to be paid in lieu of a day off, this is usually true only in the first six months, when they are still paying off their loans through their agencies. Once the loan is settled, most maids will insist on their days off. And they are likely to quit if they do not get their way.

The letter-writer, it seems, isn’t self-aware enough to ask “what would happen if my boss ordered me not to take my days off?”.

(The talk of paying off loans is another unpleasant little quirk of Singapore’s foreign-labour system: these maids, when they come over, have their passports confiscated and spend the first six months of their career paying nearly their entire salary to placement agencies as a “loan repayment”. Fans of noted fiction author Johann Hari may find this story familiar, and in Singapore it’s all too real.)

[…] The problem is not whether maids will use their days off to run away. Rather, the exponential increase in days off may lead them to squander their hard-earned pay instead of saving it to help finance a better life when they return home. The higher risk of promiscuity, extramarital affairs and unintended pregnancies are also possible consequences.

It’s sort of weird to hear that kind of neo-colonialist sentiment – “we know what’s best for them, better than they do” – from a citizen of a country that was itself a British colony less than fifty years ago.

(And going off on a bit of a tangent here, couldn’t you use that “promiscuity and affairs and pregnancies” argument to justify seven-day work weeks for nearly anybody?)

[…] The sudden government decision on having a weekly day off for maids, an important issue affecting families, is disappointing.

I think the only people disappointed by this “sudden” decision (it’s the result of ten years of lobbying and a year of consultation) are the ones who don’t know how to treat their maids like human beings.

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