To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Crystal XXXX. I am an expat here in Singapore, and I have employed a domestic helper for the past thirteen months. I am writing to you today in response to your solicitation for opinions on the “day off” question.
I am strongly in favor of a required day off.
I come from a culture where live in help is an unheard of luxury. By comparison, I paid the rough equivalent of the average FDW’s monthly salary (6-7 days of work per week 12+ hours of work per day) for our weekly housecleaning company, who did a total of 8 hours of work per month. A full time nanny (which would mean 8 hours a day, 5 days a week) would have run us approximately 30,000 USD a year. Our helper makes less than 25% of that cost for more work. I am deeply grateful that in Singapore I can afford the sort of support and help that previously I relied upon our friends and family for (and who are now 10,000 miles away).
The work that my helper does every day deserves recognition. She does laundry using machines that take twice as long as our American machines took, and which take approximately half the load capacity. She hand washes dishes where back home I had a dishwasher. She looks after my young daughter, and will be an invaluable support this fall when our second child is born. She cleans our home, keeping it far cleaner than I managed as a stay at home mom with far more luxuries and tools to help me keep a home clean. She also cooks, feeds our cats, and supports us in innumerable and invaluable ways.
That she does this for a monthly salary equivalent to what I made per week for a retail job when I was 18 seems unfair. That she does so while living with her employers, staying in an un-air-conditioned small bedroom with a closet of a bathroom (that has no hot water) is mindboggling. She does it to help support her family back home—to help put better food on their table, a roof over their heads, and to send her daughter to a better school in hopes that her child will eventually have better career options than she did.
The kind of sacrifice this entails is heartbreaking. She has not seen her daughter in two years, as she transferred to our employ before finishing a two-year contract with her previous family (who moved to the States before sending her on home leave). Can you imagine being a parent separated from your child like that because it’s the best way to give them a better life? While working for her previous employer, she only had one day off per month, and they gave her so few hours that she had not seen her daughter in over a year before working for us.
With her weekly day off, our helper has been able to
- Become active in her church, and attend weekly services
- Speak with her family via Skype on a weekly basis, re-establishing a closer bond with her daughter
- Participate in events within the Filipino Community, such as a recent national day event
- Relax and spend time with her friends
She has proven time and time again that she is a responsible and hardworking woman. The least we can do for her (and other FDW’s) is advocate for that weekly day of rest.
A weekly break from our jobs allows us rest, to rejuvenate for the week ahead. It gives us time to pursue our own interests and things that help us relax.
I certainly couldn’t handle a 7-day a week 12+ hours a day schedule. I would quickly become ill, exhausted, and bad tempered. I would not be able to do my work at a high level. Why is it fair to ask that of an FDW?
I know that some people complain that FDW’s are necessary in the care of their children or elderly. As a former stay at home mom who had no additional support, and nor did any of the women I knew in the US…I have no sympathy for this argument. If you are unable to care for your children, you should not have them. If you cannot care for your elderly family members, then there are nursing home facilities where people can provide this sort of care. In both arguments, I would say that there are agencies that have part time help available—avail yourselves of them. It is not your FDW’s problem, it is yours.
People generally want to do the right thing. But sometimes we have to be told what the right thing is. In this instance, the employers of Singapore need to be told that the right thing is to give your FDW a weekly day off, and that she needs a certain number of hours each day to rest without additional responsibilities. Our helpers are not robots, and it is imperative that we do not mistreat them as such.
Mrs. Crystal XXXXX