Transfer maids in demand as tensions between FDWs, employers rise
Amid Covid-19 restrictions, it would take a 'miracle' to bring in maids now, says employment agency head
When her 89-year-old employer died of lung cancer last Saturday, Ms Maricel Sueta Serantes, a foreign domestic worker (FDW) of 16 years here, was left jobless.
But just two days later, the 49-year-old Filipina was inundated with calls and messages from potential employers after she shared her plight on a Facebook group that connects employers with FDWs for direct hire.
Ms Serantes said she was worried that she could not find a job after her employer died.
"I kept asking myself, 'What can I do now?'" she told The New Paper yesterday.
"I kept praying because I wasn't sure about where I was going to stay, but luckily my employer's sons were kind to me and let me stay in his home until I get a new job."
Then the job offers started coming in after her Facebook post.
"I was so happy that so many people were interested in hiring me. Now, it feels like the start of a new journey."
She has yet to accept any of the offers because they were lower than expected.
"Some were offering $550, $650, even though I have so much experience. I was not happy," she added.
Ms Serantes is one of several transfer maids who are now in high demand as travel restrictions over Covid-19 have prevented new FDWs from entering Singapore.
Ms Elizabeth Leong, director of Universal Employment Agency, said the demand has pushed up agent fees for transfer maids - who can command a monthly salary of up to $800 - by 20 per cent to 30 per cent.
Maid Avenue general manager William Lau added that nearly all the calls his agency has received in the past few weeks have been inquiries about transfer maids.
"It would take a miracle for us to bring in new maids now," he added.
Singapore Accredited Employment Agencies Association president Brian Tan said very few entry approvals have been granted for new FDWs to work here after the circuit breaker measures kicked in on April 7.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced last month that new or returning FDWs must obtain its approval before entering Singapore.
They must serve a 14-day stay-home notice on arrival.
A Singaporean mother of two, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lim, said she could not fly in from the Philippines a new FDW she had interviewed last month.
She told TNP: "I have a seven-week-old baby and a two-year-old daughter. Both my husband and I are working, so we urgently needed an extra pair of hands at home.
"I had to speak to seven or eight agents over about three weeks before I hired a suitable transfer maid from Myanmar."
Despite the demand for transfer maids, some employment agencies have suffered close to a 90 per cent drop in business over the last two months.
Ms Leong said: "The maid industry is hurting very badly. We have hardly any new helpers coming in now, and transfer maids are in short supply."
Employment agencies contacted by TNP said the dearth of new arrivals has prompted them to urge employers to hold on to their current FDWs and be more patient with them.
Even so, some maids have had to contend with heavier workloads and shortened rest hours after families were forced to stay home due to the circuit breaker measures.
A spokesman for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) said maids have more cooking and cleaning to do, while some may be monitored more closely now that their employers are home nearly all the time.
The spokesman said: "Many FDWs are afraid of raising issues of overwork and inadequate rest to employers for fear of getting scolded or terminated."
The Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) said there has been a 20 per cent to 30 per cent rise in the number of calls to its helpline from FDWs experiencing more stress and it has had to offer more counselling to both parties as tensions in the household come to a head.
On top of that, all FDWs must now stay home on their rest days, except to purchase meals or run essential errands, MOM announced last Saturday.
TNP reported in March that some FDWs were not paid for work assigned to them on their rest days, after MOM's initial advisories led to more of them staying home on their day off.
Home's spokesman confirmed this remains an issue.
Home and Fast said they have mediated cases where some employers had barred their FDWs from going out for essential errands, such as to remit money to their families.
Ms Serantes, who considers Singapore her second home, said: "It is a give-and-take relationship. Both maids and employers must be flexible."