Maids hired to care for elderly often overworked: Study
Research shows they often face inaccurate duty matching and lack support
She had just given birth, and after spending just six months with her newborn daughter, she had to leave her hometown and look for work in Singapore.
Athena (not her real name), was told by the maid agency that her future employers just needed someone to accompany their mother.
But when she arrived here, the maid realised she was hired to care for an elderly stroke patient with dementia.
Athena said she was told the woman could speak English, but in reality, she could speak only Hokkien, and the language barrier became an issue.
Athena is one of 25 domestic workers who participated in a recent study by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) and Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home).
Titled Neither Family Nor Employee, the results of the research were presented yesterday.
It found that maids hired as caregivers often faced inaccurate matching to eldercare jobs, were overworked and lacked informational and emotional support.
Most of the maids who took part in the study were from the Philippines and Myanmar, with their ages ranging from 27 to 53. They have worked an average of five years and four months here.
Ms Jaya Anil Kumar, a case manager at Home, said many maids take on caregiving responsibilities on top of having to do the household chores.
"A lot of domestic workers are afraid to voice their concerns and fears," she said.
"Because from where the employer stands, they are given a list of tasks and just have to do it."
She added many also forego their rest days, as employers are hesitant to engage alternative care arrangements that may be expensive.
In Athena's case, she had recently bought a round-trip ticket to return home to see her daughter.
But her employer told her not to go and that he would pay her to stay and look after the elderly woman.
She then told her employer: "I still young, I still can earn money, but (for) the time I spend with my daughter, you cannot pay any amount."
Still, he was unwilling to let her go, as alternative arrangements for just 10 days would have come up to about $5,000.
In the end, Athena's mother and daughter flew here instead to spend time with her while she continued looking after her employer's mother.
Home and Aware said more attention must be paid to the working conditions of maids here.
It also suggested that long-term solutions be looked into, such as a skills framework for maids and possibly allowing male domestic workers to be hired as caregivers for the elderly.
Ms Jaya said one solution could also be having dormitories for maids, allowing them some respite.
"Some of these problems, such as overwork, can be solved if they are living outside their employers' homes, and there could also be better regulation which is more enforceable.
"We do understand the space constraints in Singapore. But this is not a model that is completely far-fetched," she said.
READ MORE: By the numbers
By the numbers
The qualitative study of 25 maids here revealed several issues with job matching and workload
Average monthly salary
Average time spent working a day
Average time spent on caregiving tasks a day
Average rest days each month
1 in 5
Said needs of their care recipients were different from what was described during hiring stage
13 out of 25
Said they had to wake up more than twice every night
14 out of 25
Said their care recipients' conditions worsened during the time they were looking after them