Dear Employer

History of FDW

FDWs Well Received

First-Time Employers

Mother's Helper or Novice

Situation Today

Current Situation
many working mothers cannot do without maids

Dear Employer,

There was a time when there were so many foreign maids heading for Singapore that employers were not only spoilt for choice but could hire a maid for a pittance. Some agencies were shouting out from the highest rooftops:

Lelong, lelong! (Cheap Sale, Cheap Sale!) * One dollar, one dollar! Free medical, unlimited replacements,

not like Robin Hood who robbed the rich, but more like Robin Hoodlum who robbed the poor with their "free replacement, free this, free that, free everything."

* Does this not remind you of the tissue woman in the film "Singapore Gaga" by Tan Pin Pin where a wheelchair-bound woman touted her paper napkins:

One dollah, one dollah, buy my tissue one dollah.
Uncle, auntie pang wo mai tissue how mah?

Imagine a cup of coffee in those good old days, before our per capita income shot through the roof and inflation became a fact of life, costing less than one dollar. Starbucks charges five dollars (or is it still only five) for a cuppa. How could the one-dollar agency make a profit under the circumstances? By creative marketing and bookkeeping which they do not teach at management universities? And by charging the maids an unconsionably exorbitant placement fee equivalent to many months of the maid's sweat and tears in a foreign land.

Then MOM stepped in and capped the amount the agent could charge a foreign maid at 2 months of her monthly wage, instead of 6 to 8 months or even 10 months! So, thereafter. the maid theoretically would retain 6 to 8 months more of her income after paying the local agent two months, right? Not necessarily so! Since the maids had never protested having to forfeit 8 to 10 months of her monthly pay, their recruiters might as well require their Singapore counterpart to continue to withhold 8 - 10 months of her sweat and tears, retaining only 2 months and remitting the rest to the recruiter. Would the recruiter reward his Singapore counterpart for his compliance?

MOM, in its infinite wisdom had earlier in 2005 decreed that all new maids had to be at least 23 years of age and had at least 8 years of formal education, unlike Ah Soh, the "S" in the days before the foreign maid started coming. Ah Soh did not even go to school. Not only that, the maids had to pass an entry test in English. Yes, in English.

That is one plausible explanation for a shortage of foreign maids. Before the new standards were set for first-time foreign maids, Indonesian agents had a vast pool to tap: teenaged girls who had only an elementary education or less.

But the agents (probably the majority) hurt by the sudden decline in numbers were equal to the challenge. They not only agreed to remit to their Indonesian counterparts the "utang" above the two months MOM allowed, they even acquiesed when the suppliers asked for additional "biodata" fee on top of the "utang". They also agreed to a higher starting monthly salary for the maids. Two times a fee of $450 is better than two times $400. And if the agent could persuade employers to pay $500, it would be good for his bottom line.

The recruiters had to put in a lot of hard work teaching their recruits English to enable them to pass the Enty Test. Looking back, teaching their recruits enough English was really a Herculean effort. However, when one Indonesian maid killed herself after failing the Entry Test three times the NGOs stepped in. Mercifully MOM, wisely and under pressure abolished the Entry Test and replaced it with with the Settling-in Program to orientate the new maid and prepare her mentally for the tough job she was soon to be engaged in. That should save the recruiters some effort and expense otherwise needed to ensure the maid passed her Entry Test.

They did not reduce their fees after the Entry Test was discontinued, though. They did not have to. The demand for maids was inelastic and continues to be. Unless MOM could be persuaded to designate other countries as approved sources of foreign maids.

To MOM's credit, it did about two years ago in May 2013 conditionally designate one nearby country as an approved source on a trial basis. Initially the new source would deploy 400 maids in Singapore over six months, beginning sometime in August 2013. Well, to date (May 2015), it appears that the source country has been able to deploy some 350 maids, a mere drop in the bucket.

Not all source countries are deploying their domestic workers in Singapore, viz., Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Some day they will, when the resolve of the two maid source countries bite hard enough. The Philippine government has declared its intention to slow down the flow of Filipino Household Service Workers (not maids) to Singapore. The Indonesian government will stop their citizens from working abroad as domestic workers in 5 years, in 2020!

Conclusion: Shortage of new foreign domestic workers: the worst is yet to come.

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.