Singapore (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The government of Singapore has granted domestic workers a weekly day of rest. Until recently, they had to be at the disposal of their employer at all times. The law is welcome news for human rights activists and social workers, but it has its critics. Some warn that some helpers might "abuse" their freedom. Conversely, others complain that it does not meet international labour standards. Indeed, despite tiny steps in the area of civil rights, some groups and associations said on International Women's Day (8 March) that in Asia women and girls still have to endure social inferiority and marginalisation.
In announcing the change, Singapore Manpower minister Tan Chuan-jin said that employers who need the services of their helpers on their rest day must pay them.
"The decision by Singapore's Manpower Ministry to grant foreign domestic workers a weekly rest day is an important reform" even if it falls short of international standards, Human Rights Watch said.
Not everyone likes the new law. Some of its fiercest critics are women. Banker Jacqueline Ng expressed concern that some helpers might abuse their freedom and get out of control.
Ng mentioned the case of a maid who had contracted a venereal disease despite not having a regular day off. "Can you imagine if she has a day off. What will happen?" Ng asked.
More than 200,000 women from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India work as helpers in Singapore. Some employers give their helpers a discretionary day off. However, some never get a single day off during their first two years of their contract. As a result, many of them suffer from anxiety, depression and loneliness.
In some cases, the stress can lead to violence as some recent episodes indicate. In one case, a 19-year-old Indonesian helper was recently jailed for killing an elderly Singaporean widow because she was unable to cope with her employer's demands and constant scolding.
At the same time, 147 foreign domestic workers died in domestic accidents and suicides between 1995 and 2005. In the latter case, most jumped from the balconies of the flats where they worked and lived in segregation.