Maids can take rest days outside but should do so on a weekday: MOM
While welcoming the opportunity to go out again, some are concerned about not being able to do so on weekends
After being cooped up at home for more than two months, Filipino maid Rosita Madrid finally received good news yesterday.
Foreign domestic workers (FDW) like her can now go out on their rest day after being told to stay home during the circuit breaker period in April and May.
Though she was allowed to leave her expatriate employers' condominium unit to buy groceries or walk their two dogs, she began having cabin fever, especially when her workload increased after they started working from home.
"I felt like a prisoner," Ms Madrid, who has worked in Singapore for 12 years, told The New Paper yesterday.
"Spending my rest day at home made me feel as if I was still on the job.
"I kept feeling like I needed to clean things because the home is my workplace."
Excited at being able to spend a full day out for her own recreation, she added: "I just need that one day each week to recharge away from work."
In an advisory to employers yesterday, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said while FDWs can now spend their rest day outside as part of phase two of Singapore's reopening, they must comply with strict conditions.
Among them: FDWs who wish to spend their rest days outside should seek the consent of their employers to do so on a weekday when public spaces are less crowded.
They must not gather in groups of more than five, loiter in public spaces or visit crowded places such as City Plaza, Lucky Plaza and Peninsula Plaza.
They must also observe measures that apply to all residents, such as the wearing of masks and safe distancing rules.
They should also inform their employers of their whereabouts and are strongly encouraged to download and activate the TraceTogether app to facilitate contact tracing, MOM said.
MOM officers will conduct inspections and disperse large groups and outdoor gatherings. Those who do not cooperate risk being fined and having their work passes revoked.
Most FDWs contacted by TNP welcomed the announcement as they had waited patiently for the opportunity to spend their rest days away from their workplaces.
Filipino maid Evelyn Obillo, 48, told TNP: "A lot of us are tired because the families are at home all the time. Now we have a chance to enjoy some freedom outside."
While Ms Madrid plans to "enjoy peace of mind" when she goes out on her rest day tomorrow, she was less than thrilled that she can do so only on a weekday.
"Everyone else can go out on weekends, but helpers should not? Is the virus around only on Sundays at Lucky Plaza?"she said.
Ms Jaya Anil Kumar, a case manager at the migrant worker advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said this smacks of unfair discrimination of domestic workers.
"If the rest of the population is not told when they can leave home, FDWs should not be treated differently," she added.
"They should be allowed to meet their friends to relieve some of their mental stress... Having to take their rest days on weekdays may inhibit that."
But most employers told TNP they will allow their FDWs to take their rest days only on a weekday for the time being.
Human resources manager Joyce Quek, 55, who has an Indonesian maid, said: "I am worried about the crowds at the places they frequent, especially when I read about second waves in other countries.
"I would prefer if she takes her rest days a couple of weeks later, just to see if there is a resurgence (of cases)."
Mr William Lau, general manager of employment agency Maid Avenue, said some FDWs may not be able to take their rest days on a weekday because their employers, especially those working from home, will need them to work.
"They can't rest on weekdays, but they are also discouraged from going out on weekends.
"They may have to wait for phase three to go out on Sundays again, and we don't know when that will be."
Another employer, sales assistant Ammy Tan, 33, said she will allow her maid from Myanmar to take her rest day on Sundays so she can meet her cousins and friends, who also have Sundays off.
"They are adults and know how to take care of themselves. I have explained the precautions she should take and she understands, so I have no issue."
While Ms Obillo, who has worked here for 18 years, agreed some FDWs may find it hard to meet their friends on weekdays, she feels it is still better than not having a rest day outside at all.
Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) executive director Shamsul Kamar said in a Facebook post: "It takes the effort of everyone to make some minor adjustments to our lifestyles and habits because Covid-19 remains a threat to all of us."
Employers and FDWs can call CDE's 24-hour helpline on 1800-2255-233 for advice.