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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Singapore maids

Amidst the shiny condos, fancy cars, lush green parks, and super-sized swimming pools,; she roams alone. She is the maid in Singapore; she might have come from Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka or India; and now she lives for US dollar 200 a month. She had to move away from their roots because the economic need crushed the feeling of family longing.

The government, as with everything else, stipulates working conditions like days of leave. Occasionally, one does hear about abuse stories which can sometimes be quite bizarre (One employer had dipped her maid’s finger in boiling oil); but life may have been much harsher (physically) back home.

The maids are usually hired through agencies. The agencies publish the profiles of their women, sometimes grading them under various skill categories. In the agent’s showroom (office); the maids seeking employment are made to wear badges and sometimes uniform. The prospective employers come to the agency, inspect the catalogue and after a few words take home one of them.

I wonder how the Singapore maid feel; a poor among all the wealth around; living in the house of an alien employer; with most of the time spent among dogs and babies, neither of which can talk her language. How does she feel when she has to turn off the AC when only she is in the house? How does it feel to serve food on that expensive Gautier dining table while herself crouching, has to finish her dinner with shame? How does it feel to iron the expensive clothes of the employer's child while her own child wears rags back home? Maids worldwide have similar fates. But in places like Mumbai, they live in a community of people of similar profile and there is some consolation. In places like Singapore, she has to live in a small room dirtier than the room that houses the washing machine. But then of course, time heals.


Anonymous said...

One feels sorry when one hears facts like these. Recently I heard of a maid in the middle east who almost got killed by her employer. God alone knows how they can be saved.

Unknown said...

Ouch. And I always thought the rich-poor divide in mumbai was hard to digest. the picture you paint is even more so, although i've never been to sg.

came here via desiblogger. nice blog.

Rohini said...

Hi. Nice blog.

Though I do disagree a bit with you. I have been reading a book called 'The End of Poverty' by Jeffry Sachs and he makes a different point. He talks about the textile industry in Bangladesh with makes clothes for top-end Western retailers like Gap, etc.

He talks about how the activists in the West object to the working conditions in these 'sweatshops'. But how the women who work there don't see it like that. For them, it is a way out of the vicious cycle of poverty that most of rural Bangladesh has been trapped in since independence. It gives them a chance to make a step improvement in their lives, they have less kids (since marriage is delayed), they have economic independence and social status much beyond what their mothers ever dreamt of having and most importantly, they have the chance to afford something even better for their daughters...

I think the case of the maid in Singapore may not be much better. In fact, many of them opt to go abroad because $200 is still a lot more than what they would get for the same job in India. A few years there and they will have the chance to save what for them will be pretty serious money.

Shivaji said...

Rohini; hiren; girl from ipanema

Thanks for your comments...
I didnt wish to convey the message that maids in Singapore are having a life worse than what they would have had back home...I am sure net net its better otherwise they wouldn't have stayed back...
My intention through the post was to bring about the sharper contrasts that she has to face in Singapore and thus the effect on her thoughts..

Anonymous said...

Maids in Singapore certainly do not have it as bad as you make it.
Yes undeniably its tough for a few of them in some households, but am told the government regulates such things with counselling for the employers.

Maids have a good living place (not some dingy corner as you make it, if they are not happy how can they keep the kids happy since it is the maid who actually spends the maximum time with the kids, so employers are careful to keep the maid happy), they are free to cook and eat what they please since they have the house to themselves anyways when the employers are at work and kids at school and watch TV (almost all Tamil maids seem to demand SUN TV connection before joining). Most maids have a network of other maids as friends so you realise your phone is engaged all day and the kid has not eaten the food coz the maid cudn't care.

I think most of the times its the opposite here. There are far too many stories I have heard of maids who control the memsaheb since she depends on her maid so much to be able to go to work (many times the maid runs the household like a MIL deciding every other thing, so young families beware).

Quite a few women I know have quit jobs and are happier to take care of their homes themselves instead of struggling it out in a corporate jungle out there and having unruly kids at kids. I think a maid's job is far too much easier (housewives are sort of maids anyways) and having a maid is so expensive here (keep aside 800-1000 S$ a month). Many like me eventually realise money saved is money earned as well. And PEACE OF MIND with a HAPPY FAMILY is not worth a maid.