Putting a price on human rights…$60 per month?

13 Mar

Please don’t mistake me, I am not saying that human rights has a price tag. Allow me to explain.

Maids who have their foreign domestic helper work permit issued or renewed from 1 Jan 2013 would enjoy a mandatory weekly rest day or compensation in lieu. By 2015, all maids will be covered by the new legislature. Employers who break the rules can be fined up to $5000 or spend six months in jail. The rest day can fall on any day and if a maid is asked to work on her off day, a replacement rest day must be given within the same month. Compensation is about $15 given that the average monthly wage of a domestic helper is $400.


Let us look at some of the statements in the speech delivered by Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin:


More than just a physical rest, a rest day provides the foreign domestic worker with an emotional and mental break from work. 


A weekly rest day is regarded internationally as a basic labour right. 


As Singapore is among the few foreign domestic workers receiving countries with no provisions for weekly rest days, this regulation is also expected to enhance Singapore’s attractiveness as a destination for quality and experienced foreign domestic workers. 



This is a step from the govt and some NGOs and observers have called it a step forward. I am not so optimistic. It’s a step but it might not be forward. Do you believe that your right can be compensated by monetary means? Would you agree if I say, you will work everyday for 3 months and I will compensate you for your 12 days of forfeited rest according to your daily wage? Most of us might not agree and those of us who agree would at least ask for double salary for rest days forfeited. So what kind of basic labour right are we talking about here? Are we teaching our younger ones that as a society we recognise rights of an individual but bear in mind that they can bought at a price (so let’s debate about the price)??!!

If we really believe that domestic helpers are deserving of our mutual respect (never mind their low wages), then why are we proposing that their right to a rest day can be replaced by money? To the tune of about $15 per week and $60 per month. Are their labour rights just worth $60 per month?

Our main competitors for quality domestic helpers from Philippines and Indonesia are countries in North-east Asia. In Hong Kong, monthly wages of domestic helpers are about $250 more than their counterparts in Singapore on top of having mandatory day-off with none of that compensation hogwash. If I am not mistaken, better quality helpers are flocking to North-east Asia, some of whom have been trained by Singapore households.



Taken in whole, it seems that the recent ‘mandatory day-off’ announced by the govt is more to make Singapore as an attractive destination for quality domestic helpers and ‘basic labour right’ was just there to make it sound musical to some ears. With such a deft move, wages of domestic helpers have gone up by about $60 or about 15% in the name of labour rights. Who could argue with a rights approach?

I understand that some families need domestic assistance 24/7 and I do sympathise with them. But if the maid has to go for a rest day to make her a better and more productive person as a whole, then I guess extended family, charities and non-government agencies have to chip in to make our society truely more inclusive. If we as a society don’t step up and do it soon, our sons and daughters might be already too materialistic, pampered and counting their cents and dollars before their morals.


Source: MrBrown


Coincident or not, MINDEF also recently announced that National Servicemen will get an increase in allowance to the tune of $60!!! So is this the magic price??

p.s. NS recruits are being paid $480, i.e. $80 more than maids and they have mandatory day-off. Think about it.


11 Responses to “Putting a price on human rights…$60 per month?”

  1. aaa March 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    NS is mandatory with threat of jail. Being a maid is a choice (although possibly driven by economics). Maids come here because they can earn more here than they can back home, whereas most NSFs can probably earn more just by doing temp jobs. Equating the two is very shoddy logic.

  2. KAM March 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    Maid service is a business transaction. If the maid does not want to work 7 days a week, then she can look elsewhere.
    Although so many people said this is a way forward, I see it more as a way backwards. The Singapore society is made up of worker bees, and everyone is expected to work til they drop. My family “works” 7 days a week, not a day goes by without some of us doing some sort of work.
    The maid “works” 7 days a week, but when we are out of the home at work, she can be easy going in the home all by herself. If she is clever, she will do her housework and plan in some “free time” for herself. Now how many of us in the office can afford to drink coffee or take a break? Not many.
    Maids should have a rest day, but also think of the employers. Who is giving them an off day?

  3. bbb March 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    given a choice nobody would want to serve NS. given a choice nobody would want to be a maid. given a choice we would all want to be rich. but since NS is no choice because we are a small country with small army, we give NS boys a day off to make them feel better. I give my maid a day off to make her feel better also because she has not much choice but to come Spore to work.

    yes, the govt is just using labour right as an excuse. it’s like giving a pay raise to the maid without really saying so.

  4. holly March 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    thanks UBB for another interesting article. under the employment act, your employer has to give u 30 hours uninterrupted rest in a week. if u are not getting it, you can speak to your employer or complain to MOM. hypothetically speaking. hahaha.

    but like the maid we can work smart also, eat snake a bit here and there. i think maids, foreign workers and singaporean employees should be protected by the law in terms of legislating some form of rest. this is a mark of a civilised country. but it all boils down to treatment, if employer treat singaporean and foreign workers fairly then i guess we won’t need to invoke a law so to speak.

    problem is there are many errant employers in singapore and they abuse workers so….look at this example:


  5. old well March 14, 2012 at 12:44 am #

    many singaporeans work 7 days a week to attain a certain standard of living. if u can, slow down n smell the flowers. sometimes we blame it on this society but often it is a struggle of desires n balance within oneself.

  6. david March 14, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    @Kam, Ever wondered what could happen if all business transactions were left unchecked? Free market if left unchecked can bring out the worse in mankind.

    Do workers both local and foreign need some protection from the law? Yes. Has the PAP Govt manage to pay lip service to labour rights? Yes. If Govt is really concern about labour rights, they should make mandatory the rest day, not subjected to any conditions or replacement. But this Govt is just too pro-business.

  7. Leticia Bongnino March 14, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    OK let’s take the bleeding hearts labor rights argument even further (I like the idea of a day-off and that the maid can be compensated with money if there is no day-off, as it is a business transaction).

    So are we going to be like Hong Kong where maids can get PR? Let’s give them rights all the way? No? Yes?

  8. silly March 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Pay of $15 for not taking a day off? There are domestic helpers working part-time on their days-off and the rate is $15 (light duties like mopping, cleaning, ironing) and $20 (wiping fans, windows) per hour.

  9. Unbranded BreadnButter March 15, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Thanks for the comments. What I am saying is rights cannot and should not be easily replaced by money and the govt is sending out the wrong message. Or they are trying to make Spore more attractive to maids.

    Many a times we sacrificed our rights because of responsibility. NS, we do it for country. Maids perhaps do it for their family. But shouldn’t they all be accorded with protection from the law?

    A bleeding heart will eventually die from loss of blood, so we all know PR is out of bounds but it’s easy for some to use it as the bogeyman. Spore PR is the real business transaction. You can contribute we give u PR. But a rest day is not as even God rested on Sunday (not that I am a Christian or care to be one).


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