Could you talk to me about employing a maid/helper in Singapore?

(18 Posts)
OffOffandAway Mon 12-Jul-10 20:42:49

I know there have been a few crazy threads about expats and domestic help, but we're about to move to Singapore, and the basis on which we're doing it will require us to have a live-in helper (i.e. what we'll be required to be doing will mean we need live-in childcare, and I'll be working so will need some domestic support)

While looking for a house, I've been looking for somewhere that has adequate space and privacy for a helper.

I've also been turning over the idea of the morality behind it. On one hand, I see the wages are relatively low (although with the cost of accommodation, I can see things might even out for a live-in maid). And there's also the issue about whether to employ someone who's left their own children in their home country. Ought I avoid women with children (which would actually be an illegal practice in the UK), or just accept that she is able to make her own decision as to what's best for her family?

And ought I pay over the 'going rate' - and if so, by how much? Is it common to do this?

There doesn't seem to be much in the way of babysitting etc (probably because live-in help is so common) and we'd need someone very reliable and regularly, so a live-in option seems best for us.

But I am wondering about the suggestion that importing domestic helpers from the developing world is exploitative (which I think perhaps risks over-simplifying things, but grateful for views), or whether it's offering income and an opportunity to someone (and their family) who would otherwise be living in poverty.

Grateful for any experiences or advice.

OP’s posts: |
exexpat Mon 12-Jul-10 23:49:35

You might find Global Woman by Barbara Ehrenreich an interesting read. I don't think there are any easy answers to the ethical issues.

I read the book at a time when I had a live-out helper from the Philippines for just one day a week when I was living in Japan. I paid her the going rate for non-Japanese helpers, which was actually higher than I would have to pay for someone Japanese to do the same work, as there was a premium for English-speakers, and very few Japanese around wanting to do that kind of work (though plenty of Japanese working in convenience stores, fast-food places and so on for about half what I paid our helper).

She sent a lot of money home to her family, flew back to visit them once a year, and had already built a house back home and was paying private school fees and family medical expenses. If she had stayed in the Philippines she would never have earned enough to do any of that. (Of course, if DH and I had stayed in the UK, we would probably never have earned as much as we did in Japan...)

But I think conditions in Japan are much better for overseas domestic workers than in many other places in Asia - I've heard a few horror stories from Singapore and Hong Kong, and I have to say I could never have made someone live in the cupboards described as 'maid rooms' in a lot of expat housing.

I think you need to talk to people when you get to Singapore, find out what the standard rates of pay, conditions and so on are, and then ask yourself honestly whether you feel they are fair in that situation.

OffOffandAway Tue 13-Jul-10 06:44:07

Thanks. Some of the 'maid's rooms' were awful, and I rejected houses on that basis alone!

I couldn't have someone living with us in very poor conditions. Much of the newer accommodation appears to have more space and more private areas for the helper.

Live-out won't work for us, and I think as rent is so high, that probably opens up greater ethical issues than having someone living-in, as I just don't know how a maid would afford Singaporean rent - they would have to live in pretty poor accommodation.

I'll read the book you suggest.

The rates of pay are around S$600 (£300) per month plus similar to the gov't for work permit etc, then paying for bi-annual health check, flights home, food, accommodation etc. So the cost to us would be just under around (UK) £1200 per month. But I'd be asking her to work effectively part-time - in the mornings to help with breakfast and housework, and hour or two a day for laundry, and then evening babysitting. And no weekends.

But the 'rent' proportion would be worth at least that again, I guess. So £2.2k per month. I suspect we'd top up the pay so she had more spending money.

So 30 hours per week plus babysitting for £300 (or more) to spend plus all living expenses covered. Is that similar to the position of an au pair in the UK?

OP’s posts: |
frakkit Tue 13-Jul-10 07:24:20

Au pairs in the UK get around £80 a month for 25 hours work plus living expenses if that's any comparison. They also tend not to get health checks and flights home. Just pocket money and food/accommodation. Some families will give 'perks' like gym membership or pay for some English classes.

That said, I wouldn't compare things to the UK tbh. I would look at what is a local wage and if possible be a little more generous. Obviously the cost of living is different so the wage will reflect that. What is unfair is to pay below the going rate for where you are in the world or, and this is unfair in a completely different way, massively above that rate.

Ethically as far as employing local help goes I'd say that was more ethical and beneficial for the economy than employing help you imported, and if you're employing someone who has emigrated to work then you're helping 2 economies.

THK Wed 14-Jul-10 06:20:51

I live in Hong Kong and we have had live in helpers for the last 13 years.
You can choose to pay the minimum wage or you can choose to pay what you consider an acceptable wage.
HK minimum is higher than singapore( which is low)
Minimum in HK is 3,200/month
we pay 5,500/month and then 1000 food HK$6500. ( plus flight home, insurance and medical cover)We also pay double pay at chinese new year which is inline with local employmement ( as opposed to domestic helper contracts).

Many expats will pay higher which is why helpers prefer to work for western families.
Many locals ( Singaporian and HK pay below the minimum which is illegal) .
In Singapore there is no statutory day off for helpers and this is regularly abused. Another reason helpers prefer expats.

In Asia this is the way of life and you are providing a salary that is double they would earn at home in a professional career . It enables the helper to support family back home and in many cases pay for childrens education.

Due to the cost of housing you can see why the helpers room is always very small. We have taken as much effort to ensure her bathroom is the same standard as ours albeit much smaller, and bought a bunk bed with a desk underneath to utilise the space and create a comfortable bedroom.

A helper is a great advantage and whilst its strange initially living in an apartment with a live in domestic helper you will adapt to it. The key is to find the right one for your family needs.Talk to past employers and ensure you have verifiable references.

Good Luck

THK Wed 14-Jul-10 06:26:33

would also like to recommend a website that is a great resource for expats , click on Singapore .
Youll be able to get first hand advice.

BaggedandTagged Wed 14-Jul-10 12:29:36

I feel that by providing employment in a respectful environment you are making a positive impact. My helper pays for her sons to go to Uni and has a lovely house nr Manila. There is no welfare state in the Philippines and job opps are few and far between so for many women (and men) jobs in private homes are a very good option. Whilst salaries appear low, remember that helpers have few/no overheads in country of employment so you need to look at the salary in terms of what it buys in their country of origin.

If you worry about a helper leaving her own children, then you could always hire an older or single one. However, also remember that extended family in SE Asia provide much more support than in the UK so it is quite normal for parents to work and grandparents or aunties to look after children. Some wome "rotate" with their sisters on a 2 year basis.

All helper rooms are small. It's just a factor of being somewhere where floor spaces generally are quite small. Most children in HK, for example, do not have their own rooms and double room means "you can get a double bed in it but that's about it"

As THK says, it's a question of maxing comfort in that space, so using bunk bed with storage underneath etc- there are companies that specialise in funiture for small rooms and really make the most of the space. A TV and DVD player are not required but always appreciated as your helper will basically just go to her room in the evenings(You can get cheap Chinese flat screens which bolt to the wall so dont take up any space and they like to buy the fake Filipino DVDs to watch- check with the shop that the DVD player will play these).

Dont worry too much if the room doesnt have aircon. Most helpers dont like aircon- prefer just a fan or nothing.

We pay similar to THK but dont give a food allowance- she just buys food for herself when she goes shopping for us. She prefers to do that rather than eat with us as we eat late and she likes to eat at 6.

When you get to Sing you will be bombarded by people telling you scare stories about helpers and how you need to be tough or will get taken advantage of. Personally I think this is untrue. You get the odd bad one, but most problems come from unrealistic expectations or poor communication by the employer. Most probs can be avoided if you

- make sure at the interview that the helper understands the role (hours, pay, time off, is it mainly housework or childcare or both, is she expected to cook, shop etc)

- If she does something incorrectly, dont let it fester. Tell her, but do it nicely and accept that accidents happen. Dont sweat the small stuff.

- Honour labour laws like days off etc. In HK, helpers get every Sunday off and some expats also give Saturday. As THK says, in Sing this doesnt apply but a day off a week I think is fair and the minimum I would do.

- If there are deal breakers, tell her at interview stage- eg some employers let their helpers do PT work for other people. We don't because it's illegal and we already pay above the accepted level.


THK Wed 14-Jul-10 13:25:52

B&T , we also have the same approach re working on days off.
Our helper uses her lap top in the evenings for skyping her family and watching movies.
I totally agree it's really important to have clear job duties and spend time to show your helper how you like things to be done, don't assume they know.
We've only had 1 bad experience in 13 years .

OffOffandAway Wed 14-Jul-10 22:21:39

Thank you. They are useful tips, especially about making the most of the helper's room and ground rules at the start - I hadn't thought of p/time work elsewhere!

OP’s posts: |
TheBossofMe Fri 16-Jul-10 04:06:57

I don't think you can really think about it as a "part time role" and pay accordingly - in Singapore, it wouldn't be that easy for her to find a 2nd job in the time that she's not working for you. So I think you have to base it on an FT basis, even if you choose not to use her services.

ninedragons Fri 16-Jul-10 04:50:31

Good grounding there from THK.

I was quite good friends with a neighbour's helper when I lived in HK. She had put her two children back in the Phils through school and university, given them both deposits on property and bought herself a house with land for her retirement. So while the wage might feel shockingly low to you, it can set you and your family up.

I think it would be patronising to avoid women with children. They have taken a perfectly calculated decision about what's best for their families.

You also hear a lot of horror stories about flighty helpers (best friend's helper "eloped" to meet a UK man she'd met online.) A woman who is doing it for solid reasons like paying for her children's education might be a lot less flighty.

BaggedandTagged Fri 16-Jul-10 09:10:37

The Boss- that's interesting re PT not being available in Sing. In HK it's a big "loophole" in the min wage laws

Because there are a lot of single people/ couples who just want a PT helper, and many local families who need a helper but struggle to afford a FT position, some families who can't really afford a helper will sign the paperwork for one and give them somewhere to stay, but in reality give them (eg) 50% of the salary for 50% of the hours and then the helper makes it up doing PT work for around $60/hr for other people.

Expat couples with no kids often also let their helper "moonlight" because there isnt really enough work for them and the helper will often ask if they can do a bit of work for someone else in the building to make some extra money.

However, although common, this is illegal, so if your helper gets caught, she'll get deported and the employer will get fined. That's why I'm not happy allowing it as knowing my luck, we'll be the people that the immigration dept decide to make an example of!!

TheBossofMe Fri 16-Jul-10 11:46:53

Bagged - may be different now, but wasn't there wasn't a real market in daily PT help when I was there. There are live outs who come in 2-3 days a week, but they combine jobs for set days ie 2 days in each job, rather than a few hours each day. So it wasn't common practise, and I don't think there was much demand for it.

scanty Sun 18-Jul-10 01:38:05

generally maids like working for western expats as we give them more money, less work, more freedom and more time off. It is a moral dilema and many of us expats felt better about the situation because we did usually offer more than local employers, even though we knew it still wouldn't pass mustard in the UK. We had a maid - so to give you an idea:

She started work at 7.30am and finished usually after clearing away dinner about 7.30pm

She was usually unsupervised and could manage her own time and take time off through the day as long as the work was done.

She cleaned the house, did the laundry, cooked the evening meal and washed the dishes. Minded the children through the day when required. Baby sat at night when needed.

For this we paid 500 SGD a month. Had Sundays (whole day) and most public holidays off. We paid for one flight home (at least) a year for up tp 4 wks off. Paid a month bonus at Christmas.

This might sound bad when using UK norms but she seemed genuinely happy with the terms and conditions we offered.

OffOffandAway Sun 01-Aug-10 09:25:26

Thanks again everyone (been away so not checked back for a while).

In mentioning in p/t, TheBoss, I meant I'd ensure our helper worked only for us rather than using someone p/t. If I'm going to employ someone in that environment I think I'd want to take full responsibility for her, in terms of income and living accommodation. I don't think it is right to make people in that position scrabble around for hours/money and so on.

For a number of reasons - ensuring she actually takes time off, ensuring there's no problems with other families/children that she may be working for.

OP’s posts: |
springaporesling Mon 02-Aug-10 05:53:20

OffOffandAway if you employ a FDW it is illegal for her to work for anyone else. MOM are also quite strict on what constitutes working for someone else in the way it is defined.

That isn't to say it doesn't happen though...

slim22 Tue 03-Aug-10 13:20:09

From my experience, I can tell that most maids I know are grown up women capable of making a choice for themselves.

They do come here for lack of a better opportunity back home.

We have 2 maids as we both work full time and our youngest needs full time attention. We felt it was too much work for our live in as we expect evening babysitting too so when DD was born we hired a second helper to share the load.

Both my helpers are not married. I could not personally deal with the thought of a mother leaving her children behind and expecting her to care for my children.
That said they may not have a better choice and you must leave it to their own judgement to put things in perspective and decide wether the added income will benefit their children (who are most likely to be part of an extended family household thus live with grand parents/aunts/cousins/siblings)

I agree that an older helper supporting grown up children through higher education is a very good option all round.

Both my maids have recently been back home for a holiday and have come back with the firm intention to stay.
We are moving the HK soon and I have encouraged both to come along as the pay is basically double.
The first one is staying put in Singapore as she has been here a long time and has lots of friends. Just to show you that money is not all. She has weighed in the decision and her work life balance works best here with less money but a safe and secure environement.

The second has a boyfriend back home. I basically said before the holiday, go home think it through, come to HK and earn a decent wage for a year or so before you decide.
She has come back (still in love :-) but definitely not considering moving back because conditions are so dire she now understands that she could end up stuck there with a young child, no income and potentially the thought of leaving her child behind and returning anyway.

Its heartbreaking. they are both young and lovely and I encourage them to get a life an hope they find a decent man. At the same time, am happy to see they are strong and determined to get the best of what the immediate has to offer.

Guess what I want to say is do the best you can to offer a good working environment. Leave the rest up to them. They can make decision for themselves. Just like everybody else.

slim22 Tue 03-Aug-10 13:31:32

regarding wages, agencies rate girls according to experience but its really up to you to make it up as the government levy is not really different whatever you pay.

We pay an average monthly salary and they do not have allowances for food.
They make a list of whatever they need and that's added to the weekly shopping. They cook what they like if we eat eastern food too alien to them (sushi or salad meals ;-)

We also pay an extra month in December and give a generous tip for birthdays.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in