One advantage that living in Singapore offers is affordable domestic help. Some expats – especially singles or couples without children – find that maid service once or twice per week is enough. But for others, especially those with families, a full-time maid to help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, ironing and childcare can be a blessing. Most helpers in Singapore are from the Philippines or Indonesia and are diligent, conscientious women who are working to support their families back home.
Part-time maids are available for between $10 and $20 an hour, and can be hired independently or through a company. Full-time, live-in maids can be hired for as little as $450 per month, although expats often pay them $650 or more, depending on their level of experience. Employers must also pay a monthly levy (currently $265) to the Singaporean government, plus a security bond of $5,000. Employers are responsible for providing accommodation, insurance, food and medical care for their maids, in addition to hiring costs, airfares for bi-annual home leave, transfer costs, and an annual bonus.
Most expats give them every Sunday and public holidays off, plus a two-week holiday every two years to their home country. To counter the instance of maids working without rest, the Ministry of Manpower has mandated that from 1 January 2013, all employers give helpers one day off per week (or be compensated if they choose to, or are required to work).
Fees vary, but from around $400, a maid agency will find you a maid, and will usually give you the chance to interview several. Alternatively, you can source a maid yourself (log on to the Ministry of Manpower website), but the process can be confusing. Some expats who are leaving Singapore help their maid to find work by advertising on notice boards or by word of mouth.
Tips for a successful interview
Ask your potential helper to write down her strengths, what appliances she can use, what she can cook, and why she would like to work with you.
- Be up front about what you want your helper to do. If you eat dinner late, or want your helper to be a nanny rather than a housekeeper, mention this during the interview. The helper also needs to make an informed decision about you!
- Check her English skills. Ask her to read a recipe out loud from one of your cookbooks. Some helpers have good “interview English” but not necessarily good general English.
- Ask if she has a husband or children to support back home. This will help you understand her reasons and motivation for working here.
After your helper starts to work for you
If you have children, pay attention to whether or not they are happy with her. They are a great barometer of how she interacts with them when you are not around. They should also treat her with respect.
- An annual bonus is a good way to show your appreciation and will encourage loyalty.
- Communication can be a challenge. You may need to repeat what you say to your helper because, even though she speaks English, we often sprinkle our speech with idioms she may not understand. If you encounter a blank stare, you may need to rephrase what you just said.
- Tell your helper to come to you if she needs money, even though you may not be able to give it to her. This avoids the risk of her approaching a loan shark, and she may respond with gratitude and a renewed commitment to work hard for you.
- Tell your helper that dishonesty is grounds for dismissal.
- Give your helper a schedule, and let her know the hours you want her to work, and the rules of the house. It’s easier to relax the rules later than institute new rules after something has gone wrong.
- Expect to show your helper the way you like things done the first time by doing them with her, such as setting the table.