These maids sleep on mats outside the house

Loh Chee Kong

Dr David Tio has witnessed a disturbing sight for the past two weeks, walking past his neighbour’s house on his way home: A group of maids lying huddled on the cemented backyard, sleeping on thin mattresses, mats and newspapers underneath the zinc roofs.

His neighbour’s HDB terrace house in the Whampoa area is situated next to a raised pavement and a multi-storey car park. Passers-by get a clear view of the maids sleeping in the backyard.

Said Dr Tio: “This is no way to treat fellow human beings. How can you make the maids sleep outside? Besides the discomfort, there’s no privacy at all.”

Today visited the double-storey house four times over the past week in the wee hours of the morning. About six maids were sleeping outside the house on two occasions.

When approached by Today, the owners of the house, who have been running a maid agency for 13 years, claimed that the arrangement was only “temporary” until a new boarding house is ready this week. The wife, who employs a maid of her own, claimed that “under no circumstances” had the maids slept a whole night out in the open.

The bespectacled, middle-aged woman claimed the maids had “only rested outside on not more than two occasions” as there were visitors in the house and it was “inconvenient”. After the visitors left, she said, the foreign domestic workers would go up to the room — one of three bedrooms in the house — of the couple’s maid to sleep.

But on one of the nights that Today witnessed the maids sleeping in the backyard, there were clearly no guests in the house as the lights were already out.

The maids spend their day at the employment agency’s office and only return to the house at around 9pm to sleep.

Telling her neighbours to mind their own business, the wife told Today in Mandarin: “We run a reputable agency and of course, we know how we should treat our maids … Would we be in the business for so long if we ill-treated them?”

The couple’s maid, who has been working for them for 14 months, said that her employers were “nice” to her. Speaking to Today when they were out, she said: “They treat me very well but I wouldn’t know how they treat others.”

When contacted, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it would investigate the matter. From June last year, all maid employment agencies were required to adhere to best practices — which include guidelines on accommodation and food — and be accredited by CaseTrust and the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore. Those that fail to meet these standards risk not having their licences renewed.

Ms Braema Mathi, president of civil society group Transient Workers Count Too, said the couple’s actions were inexcusable.

She said: “Is there no space within their home to let the maids sleep in? Even if there is really none, I don’t understand why the owners didn’t have alternatives. They could have rented rooms for these maids.”

Adding that there is a “basic decency level to treat humans”, Ms Mathi said: “If this is their business model, this agency’s practices leave much to be desired.” Loh Chee Kong

I read the article here.

Yesterday there was news about installing cameras around the house to keep a watch on maids because we, as employers are afraid of “maids gone wild” (I saw them trying on mam’s clothes while she was out! She brought home her Bangladeshi boyfriend home! She totally manhandled my child!) And today we have this.

What is the world coming to?! What are Singaporeans coming to?! The way to measure one’s character is how we treat the people under us. If we treat them like crap, who are we then to say that we have progressed as a society? More needs to be done on this issue! What are you all doing ah, Gahmen!


12 Responses to These maids sleep on mats outside the house

  1. jen says:

    oh gosh, no. please don’t start saying gahmen. we don’t need more of those bloggers!

  2. Libertas says:

    Its truly Singaporean experiences like these when the latent Singaporean spirit comes out of me.

  3. ~fatma says:

    cases of maid mistreated seems to be so commonplace now and because of e recent cases involving them i guess i may get worse as employers would be more suspicious of them 😦 ey are often not treated like another human being as the employers adopt a “holier than thou” attitude…bla2
    i have no idea what e govt can/will do :s

  4. Libertas says:

    Its just the utilitarian attitude Singaporeans have, an attitude subconsciously advocated by the “Gahmen”, having placed to much emphasis on economic benefits alone. We keep saying other issues like human rights are important BUT we want to have an alternative way etc. But I still fail to see any real change in helping maids.

    I think the government can do a lot, especially enforcing the Manpower and labour policies to maids as well. Somehow the idea that they are employees seem to have been lost along the way.

  5. jen says:

    hahaha latent Singapore spirit. oh well i would like to talk to you about this when i get home. i have theories abt these maid problems that cannot be written here.

  6. Libertas says:

    Omg. We must stop meeting online like this. posting responses after each other! Like in the Hari Raya Delectables: Part 3.. Hahahahaha. Yes! By the way, did you receive my email about the SM Goh speech?

  7. ~fatma says:

    but if we have to rely on the govt all the time we’d be a nanny state! 😦 (and i hate that)

    people should just be more compassionate..but it’s hard to change people so i guess we have to rely on the govt to make more laws and implement more fines… which is really sad cause it gives a very bad impression of Singaporeans

  8. Libertas says:

    But like we are like that! Not that there aren’t any compassionate Singaporeans. But like the trend is certainly very worrying, and as you pointed out its so “commonplace”. Its not supposed to be like that.

    I guess the civil society can do more than the “gahmen”. I was actually contemplating creating a halfway house for maids in trouble, you know, between their employers and their maid agencies, to help them deal with problems. Somewhere neutral and safe. Just random thoughts.

  9. jen says:

    i received it, and thanks so much for sending it to me! i really must make time to read STI, maybe during one of my many procrastination periods. btw – do you know of any place to read objective reporting on singapore?

    maybe i can try to push the envelope when i’m there, haha. maybe.

  10. Libertas says:

    Actually truth to be told, my cynicism says no. Even the whole Mr Frank Lavin’s farewell speech was misconstrued and misquoted out of context by all major international newspapers that you find it hard to find any objective reporting. But this leads me to another question of whether journalism is about objective reporting? My personal belief is that its not and thats why we need plurality of opinions so that we get a bigger picture.

    Erm push the envelope? I don’t understand! What do you mean?

  11. sour_bodhi says:

    newspaper journalism is definitely more objective than tabloids and magazines, but even within those bounds a news report can still take on a ‘slant’ which may or may not be intended.

    if you’re looking for singapore news from mixed sources you can find them at or, personally these are my main sources. but i wouldn’t expect foreign news on SG to be very critical…basically foreign news agaencies have been all but cowed into submission by LKY’s trigger-happy libel litigation.

  12. Libertas says:

    But sometimes it gets the point across. Even if LKY succeeds in litigation, the printed word is already printed and read by many. (Like The Economist one about Ms Ho Ching and Temasek Holdings) Which I find a little stupid since many people, already sharing the same opinion as the newspaper editorial, sees the whole libel litigation fiasco. This only affirms the heavy handed nature of the government and the lack of openness in critically assessing alternative views.

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