Don't let employers hold on to maids' salaries: Centre for Domestic Employees

Hannah Teoh
Senior Content Producer
Domestic helpers enjoying a picnic in Singapore. (AFP file photo)

The Singapore government should consider prohibiting the practice of employers safe-keeping their maids’ salaries, said the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) in a media release on Sunday (21 January).

CDE, an advocacy group for domestic employees and an arm of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said it has approached government agencies to give feedback about this issue.

Speaking to reporters on Friday ahead of the media release, CDE chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said that salary disputes were the most common issue raised by foreign domestic workers who approached the CDE for assistance.

Last year, the CDE assisted maids in recovering a total of $52,543 in salaries. The amounts owed ranged from between $1,000 to almost $15,000.

Some employers claimed they were helping their maids to save their salaries, said Yeo. “We are calling on the government to put it in the law, to add it into the work permit conditions, that employers shall not safe-keep the salary for the workers,” he said.

Yeo stressed that it is the maid’s legal right to determine how her salary should be paid. “Under our Foreign Manpower Employment Act, the way a salary should be paid is to be decided by the worker, not the employer,” he said, adding that maids were sometimes unaware of this fact.

Yeo said the CDE had encountered a number of cases in which the amount of salary owed was too large for the employer to repay. Some maids were also sent home without having recovered the full amount owed to them.

“We have given feedback to the relevant ministry and government agency and we are now making a formal call to the government to make the safe-keeping of salaries illegal,” Yeo reiterated.

A survey of 1,000 maids conducted by the CDE last year showed that 79 per cent of the respondents received their salaries in cash, but 60.3 per cent of them were open to using electronic banking services to receive their salary or remit money to their home countries.

For maids who said they wanted to receive their salary electronically, CDE collaborated with POSB and employment agencies to help these workers open a bank account known as the POSB Payroll Account (FDW).

Unlike other POSB bank accounts, these do not require a minimum deposit and do not incur the $2 fee if the monthly balance falls below $500. Maids who wish to open such an account must do so by going to one of three CDE outlets located at City Plaza, Peninsula Plaza and Union Square.

A total of 1,913 maids applied for this account in the last quarter of 2017.

An average of 4,000 new maids arrive every month, said Yeo. The CDE plans to work with employment agencies and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to help new maids open bank accounts after they arrive here and opt to have their salaries paid electronically.

While the CDE does not intend to make it mandatory for foreign domestic workers to open bank accounts, Yeo said that maids should be taught to keep their own salary.

“In the past, there were still concerns about whether the workers would be able to afford a bank account… All workers can come to CDE outlets to open a bank account without any cost and I think it’s time we want to educate employees that they should keep their own money,” he said.

The CDE is also working with banks and remittance companies to make remittance services for maids cheaper and more convenient.

As of June 2017, there are 243,000 foreign domestic workers working in Singapore, according to MOM data. There are no national figures on how many of them have bank accounts.

In response to media queries, an MOM spokesperson said that it is already illegal for employers not to pay foreign domestic workers (FDWs) their salaries.

“The Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations require employers to pay FDWs their monthly salaries no later than seven days after the last day of the salary period,” said the spokesperson.

“While some FDWs may want the employers to safe keep their money for various reasons, the Ministry of Manpower strongly discourages this practice. A better alternative is for the employers to help their FDWs to open a bank account and manage their own monies.

“We are currently considering the suggestion by the Centre for Domestic Employees to disallow employers to keep any money belonging to their FDWs.

Earlier in the week, the MOM put out a video featuring local actress Michelle Chong to call on employers not to keep their maids’ salaries on their behalf.

Featuring Chong as “Leticia”, the actress-comedian’s foreign domestic worker persona, the video points out MOM guidelines about why it is not advisable for the employers to keep their maid’s salary and encourages employers to allow their maids to manage their own money.

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