Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2012 Posted: 4:03:09PM HKT
Pastors and Christian leaders in Singapore have expressed their support for a new requirement by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) of a weekly rest day, or compensation in lieu by agreement, for foreign domestic workers (FDWs) or maids.
The regulation will apply to FDWs whose work permits are issued or renewed from 2013.
For Pastor-in-charge of Barker Road Methodist Church, the Rev. Malcolm Tan, the requirement is long overdue. He expressed sadness over the fact that it took society such a long time to realise that domestic helpers are also human beings.
Like other people, maids, too, are “created and loved by God and are therefore entitled to the Biblical rhythm of work and rest, just like the rest of us,” he pointed out.
Most people know how to look after themselves by avoiding overwork and burnout. And “yet we take for granted the welfare of those working under our roof,” he expressed.
The Rev. Tan emphasised to Christians the importance of giving maids a weekly rest day. He did this using a familiar biblical passage. “Remember, it was the cry of the overworked and enslaved in Egypt that reached the ears of the Almighty and provoked a response in the Book of Exodus,” he said.
MOM announced on March 5, 2012, that it will require a weekly rest day for FDWs. Employers will be given the flexibility to compensate their FDWs with extra pay. This is in the case that the FDW agrees to work on their rest day.
The new weekly rest day requirement will apply to FDWs whose work permits are issued or renewed from January 1, 2013.
FDWs play an important role in the lives of many families, MOM noted in its press release. Improving their wellbeing has a direct impact on the quality of care that the FDWs provide.
The ministry said: “More than just physical rest, a rest day provides the FDW with an emotional and mental break from work.
“This helps to improve their productivity at work, and reduce the likelihood of management problems.”
A weekly rest day is regarded internationally as a basic labour right, MOM noted. Local workers and non-domestic foreign workers already enjoy this right under Singapore’s Employment Act.
Singapore is among the few FDW receiving countries with no provisions for weekly rest days.
MOM is also giving employers the time and flexibility to adjust to the new regulation. This is to ensure that the new requirement is pragmatic and balances the needs of employers and FDWs.
For existing FDWs, the new regulation will not apply to the remaining tenure of their work permit. The weekly rest day requirement will only apply when the FDWs’ Work Permits are up for renewal on or after January 1, 2013.
New employers who hire an FDW for the first time from January 1, 2013 will also be subject to the new regulations. Employers will retain the alternative option of compensation in-lieu. This is in the case that the FDW expressly agrees to work on her rest days.
Three Christian leaders responded to an email request by The Christian Post for comment on the new regulation.
All welcomed the requirement as necessary for the health and general wellbeing of maids.
General Secretary of the Bible Society of Singapore, Mr. Lim K Tham welcomed the new regulation as a Christian. The Bible recognises the human need to set aside one day in a week for rest, he highlighted.
Mr. Lim noted the paradoxical truth that setting aside one day for rest translates to increased productivity.
“If a maid is a Christian she may well spend her day-off in worship or in ministering to other domestic workers,” he said.
Another respondent was Lecturer in Church & Society, Pastoral Theology and Ethics at Trinity Theological College (TTC), the Reverend Dr. Daniel Koh Kah Soon. He felt that Christians should support the move to give maids a weekly day off on at least two counts.
Like Mr. Lim, the Rev. Dr. Koh pointed to biblical teaching.
“The idea of a day of rest finds strong support from the Christian teaching of Sabbath,” said the theologian. “God rested on Sabbath and he commands us to observe Sabbath.”
He lamented the fact that highly urbanised societies tend to neglect the practice of a weekly rest day. Such societies are driven by “an obsessive culture that measures success with consumption and performance,” he observed.
Setting aside a weekly day of rest “should be part and parcel of the rhythm of our lives as intended by God for humankind,” exhorted the Rev. Dr. Koh.
Moreover Christians are ‘expected’ to love justice and care for people who are vulnerable in the world, he added.
Indeed, the Christian ethicist counted it a matter of exploitation to withhold a day of rest from a maid. “This is an unjust demand,” he said.
It may be necessary for employers of foreign domestic workers to offer to pay the latter extra and fairly in lieu of their taking a day off. This is especially if the FDW has been employed to look after someone who requires 24/7 care.
“If there is a need for such arrangement, it should be done upfront before the person is employed,” said the Rev. Dr. Koh. This should be done without coercion, he stressed.
Even so, “Sabbath is still Sabbath,” he expressed. “And our human body is such that we all need rest for physical refreshment and spiritual renewal.”
Other options can be explored if required. He suggested allowing maids to take two half days off per week. This may be necessary in cases where it is difficult to give maids a full day off.
His hope is that Christian employers of maids of the same faith would encourage their workers to take time out for worship and fellowship on Sundays.
Indeed, the Rev. Dr. Koh highlighted, Christians need not wait for the Government to legislate law before thinking of giving their maids a weekly day off. “This practice should have come naturally for Christians, informed by our Christian teachings and sense of justice,” he said.