Dear Employer

History of FDW

FDWs Well Received

First-Time Employers

Mother's Helper or Novice

Foreign Maids in the 80's
many considered them a blessing

Dear Employer,

In the previous letter we saw how the arrival of multinationals led to a shortage of domestic workers. But just as Singapore was beginning to feel the effects of labour shortage, our neighbours came to the rescue. They had excess labour, both skilled an unskilled. We imported architects and other professionals, construction workers, shipyard workers and domestic workers. Filipino women, ever so adventurous, first came as tourists and were able to find a job as a maid in the twinkling of an eye. They were not demanding, happy to be paid three hundred Singapore dollars, usually given one rest day every other week.

Now compare Maria (a typical Filipino young woman) with Ah Soh and you cannot but agree that Maria was a boon to the busy working mother.

Ah Soh came from Muar where her husband tended to his cocoa smallholding. Come harvesting season, her employer Lily had to give her leave for at least a rubber month. Rubber being elastic, a rubber month likewise could stretch to two months. Being very traditional, every Lunar New Year, she had to be with her family and, quite rightly so, for the entire 15 days. Of course, each time she had to go Madam would frown, but still say yes. A sometimes-absent S is better than no S. ("S" was a polite way to refer to one's servant.)

But if Lunar New Year was bad, cocoa harvesting time was excruciating. Madam could never get used to being all day at the clinic where she worked and doing what she had come to rely on S to do after that: cook the meals after a hard day at the clinic, wash and iron the clothes, mop the floor and a little more. Towards the tail end of Ah Soh's employment with her, Lily came in contact with an agency dealing with Filipino maids, not servants. Only MOM referred to them as servants, domestic servants to be exact.

One day, Ah Soh, for the second time in three months (or whatever) asked Madam for leave, saying, "If you cannot spare me, I will have to resign." It sounded ominous, the way she made her "request". Madam had either to grin and accept Ah Soh's ultimatum, which is what her "request" amounted to, or lose her services altogether. But after meeting the owner of the Filipino maid agency Lily was confident enough to call Ah Soh's bluff, expecting her to back down. But her pride prevailed and Ah Soh said a final good-bye and went home to her cocoa smallholding instead. In a way Lily was sorry to see her go. She had never so much as lost ten cents, not to mention her rope of pearls which she often just left on her dressing table.

Soon Maria showed up for work. At three three hundred Singapore dollars per month and only one rest day every other week, or 26 days per annum, come Lunar New Year or Christmas, Maria was a bargain. The levy then was only $45. Lily paid Ah Soh S$400 plus CPF. So Ah Soh's unexpected departure was blessing in disguise, financially.

The only problem was communication. Maria's English was not quite the Queen's English, more like Taglish. And she often replied with "Yes" without really understanding the question or instruction. No, Maria was not so wonderful, especially in the kitchen, but after Ah Soh, Lily was grateful to have her. Cooking was not such a chore if you do not have to wash and iron, etc., and had someone to prepare the ingredients and clean up after you later. But if Maria did not speak the Queen's English, Ah Soh did not speak any English nor did she have at least 8 years of formal education, which MOM said was necessary for a maid in Singapore from 2005.

Lily was not the only one who was so pleased with a less than capable Filipino maid. Yours truly has come across others who were happy to be able to employ a Filipino maid. He even got an earful when a disappointed would-be employer failed to "get" a Filipino maid from him.

Conclusion: Filipino maids were the rage in the early 80's. For $300 they took care of the mountain and ocean, or so some agents (not us) claimed.

If you are currently having some difficulty in your current helper and would like to "get it off your chest", we will be happy to hear from you. You can write to us at We will try respond within 24 hours.