This week, we hit the 1 year mark of being employers to foreign domestic workers. I wished I could say that our journey was a smooth and pleasant one, but in fact it was anything but!
We finally decided to get a domestic helper last year, as we needed someone to help take care of Crystabel and cover the household chores and cooking duties. The previous two years before we had the privilege of having both our parents over on a rotation basis to help with the baby care duties, but age is catching up with my parents and my MIL would like to pursue her passion and interest back home (something she sacrificed to help us out when C was born).
We had the opportunity to experience the difference between a fresh Filipino maid and an Ex-Singapore maid, and here’s a rundown on how they differ on various aspects – based on our own experience:
Merian, our very first FDW, was a fresh maid with no Singapore working experience. Although she claimed that she worked as a house help in Manila for a Filipino Chinese family.
We chose her on the basis that she’s young (23 years old at the time of application), so she’d have plenty of energy to handle our feisty Crystabel. Also, we were told that her responsibilities on her last job as a house help was to look after her employer’s 2 boys, who were slightly bigger than Crystabel. So, she should be able to handle the tasks that we needed her to do right?
So here are some of her traits and behaviour that she displayed during her time with us:
- At first, her hygiene level was not up to standard. She’d leave the cloth that she previously used while cleaning lying at bizzare places (e.g. we found the dirty cloth below our bed headboard, which was just under our pillows!). After a few reminders and warnings, she gradually improved on this aspect.
- She is extremely forgetful! She will forget the things that we tell her to do, although she has written it down in the notebook we gave her. I don’t think she bothers to “revise” her notes on her free time.
- When I told her that she could “rest” for a bit at mid-day, she went to take a nap without asking me or my MIL! We were told by our agent that it is their culture to take an afternoon siesta, but here in Singapore, if they are not doing night duty while looking after baby, there is NO reason why they should take a nap in the middle of the day. In fact, they have signed to agree to this term prior to starting their employment.
- She doesn’t seem to have basic courtesy. She doesn’t knock before entering our room, and almost barged in to take out our laundry when poor hubby was halfway dressing! Thank goodness hubby quicky ran into the bathroom. She also tend to talk to us from outside the room while we are INSIDE, which my MIL was very irritated with as it is plain rude.
- For some reason, Crystabel hates her. She wouldn’t even allow her to touch or go near her. It’s like she knows that this domestic helper of ours is incapable of looking after her – and there are plenty of reasons for this…
- She doesn’t seem to know how to use her common sense when doing things. There was once when she almost wanted to heat up Crystabel’s milk by putting a PLASTIC bowl in a pan filled with BOILING water! I screamed at her when I saw her doing that, before she does any further damage. This was also the final straw that made me send her back to the Philippines in the end.
- She is stubborn and does not listen to our instructions. When we told her to take out the empty boxes to throw, she proceeded to take them to her room and kept for her own usage. We would have been fine with her for doing that (perhaps she feels it’s a waste just to throw them away like that), but she really should have asked us first before going against our instructions.
- Her cooking is too SALTY and OILY! She tried to impress us by telling us she knows how to cook Fried Beehoon, as she cooks them all the time for her previous employer. But her version of the dish is extremely salty and came out soggy and unappetising!
- She seemed a little too eager to have her off day, and started asking me how to get around and where the MRT station is – after working with us LESS than a month. This got me worried and I started to google her name and was shocked with what I found. She put up her profile on a dating website, saying she is interested to meet new “male” friends, and her Facebook profile is filled with pictures of her in scanty outfits with some caucasian men complimenting her on her looks. This rang warning bells in my head that her motive to come to Singapore was to look for MEN!
- She disregarded the house rules we set for her. One of them was that she is not to take photos of our home and/or our family with her phone and post them up on social media. While looking through her phone, we saw pictures she’d taken on our home and selfies of herself taken wearing A BRA ONLY taken in our bathroom!
- She had double standards when doing chores like ironing. She will iron hubby’s work shirts, but won’t even bother about mine although they are clearly crumpled!
With all the drama that took place with her, we got the agency to counsel her (didn’t work) – until we finally returned her back to them after working with us for a month.
Options to terminate:
The agent gave us 2 options in order to terminate her employment with us. Either we transfer her to another employer – but while waiting for another family to take her in, we’d need to pay her upkeep fees of $15/day. Or we send her back to the Philippines.
There was no way we’d want to give her the pleasure of torturing another family like she did to us, so we opted to send her back and bought her ticket on the spot!
And the the search begins for a replacement…
After the last episode, we decided that we’d pay an extra $50 (at that time, the salary for ex-Singapore maids are at $550, as opposed to $500 for a fresh maid) to get in a maid with Singapore working experience. At least they would have some standard in their work and are more accustomed to our way of working and living here.
We interviewed a bunch of candidates, we settled on Ronna – a 35-year-old domestic helper who has worked in Singapore for 2 years 9 months.
She had 2 employers: The first one was a young Chinese family with young kids, which she only worked for 9 months. She told us that since she was new at that time, she could not get used to the work environment in Singapore. She wanted to head home but her agent at that time asked her to try another time and transferred her to another family, a retired couple in their 50s. Her responsibilities at this household is to do the basic chores and look after the 90-year-old grandma. She completed her contract for this family.
She looked very sincere during our Skype interview, and came across as a very gentle and motherly person. Hubby chose her as he felt it is better that the next maid is someone who will actually listen to us rather than fight back with us.
And so we got her in:
- Initially, we couldn’t be more pleased with her! She does her chores well, and has very good hygiene. She’s probably reached this level after all the nagging and scolding from her past employers. She also has the initiative to do chores that are not stated on her timetable. But most importantly, she gets along well with Crystabel and can look after her very well – even without us around. We can trust our daughter with her.
- However, issues started to surface after the second month. I was monitoring the CCTV one afternoon and saw her taking a nap. Confronted her that night and told her since she is not doing night duty of looking after kids for us, by right she should not even be napping. She told me that she set her alarm for a 10-minute nap and that she used to do that at her previous employer’s place. I said in this house, we do not want our helper to take afternoon naps and that she should follow our rules. She apologised to me immediately and told me she won’t do it again.
- A few weeks later, she comes to me and say that for the chores that I give to her, she usually finishes them quite early in the day and there is nothing much to do. With that, I came up with a list of extended chores (which includes tasks like cleaning up the store room, washing the rubbish bins, etc) and made it clear to her that these are to be done ONLY after she is done with the main chores. Every now and then she does make a fuss that there is too much to do, and that is where I have to step in to counsel and reason with her.
- When my MIL came over to visit, she told me that she is afraid of my MIL – when in fact my MIL have never scolded her to point out her mistakes. She merely reported to us and let us handle them as we are her employers after all.
- She is not receptive to feedback and says she feels stressed because I keep pointing out the mistakes that she’s done while doing her chores. At this point, I just feel like screaming – if I don’t point out her mistakes, how is she ever going to do her tasks well?! To her, a good helper is one whose employer does not need to correct them, ever – which I find to be very ridiculous. I told this to the agent who told me that Filipinos are non-confrontational and generally don’t receive feedback well. However, during their orientation, the maids have been told that the working style in Singapore is different as we are more open . So, they’d need to adapt to our style. The agent told me he will talk some sense into her.
- Just last month, she came up with her latest complaint: she does not feel comfortable with us having CCTV all around the house, as she feels very stressed. I was beyond words and tried to ask as calmly as possible, “And you’re telling me this after working for us for 8 months?!”. In the beginning she was aware of the CCTV and the purpose for installing them – to monitor our daughter’s safety and the safety of our home. In fact, we got them installed way before we hired maids. Since she was crying when telling me this after we got back from our CNY trip, I calmly asked her again, what is your solution to counter this? She told me she wanted to transfer, to which I replied “NO WAY! You either finish your two-year contract to go straight home to the Philippines and pay the penalty for breaching your contract!” She chose to go back home, which we gladly accepted and straight away told the agent and bought her one-way air ticket.
What to do when your maid chooses to go home before her contract ends?
It seems like the process of sending the maid home when she chooses to go back on her own free will is quite simple, but can be done in 2 ways:
- You cancel her work permit online by yourself, and send her to the airport – making sure she really enters the departure gate.
- Send her back to the agent’s office, so that you can give them a rundown of what happened. At this point, they will probably give the maid an earful. They will do the cancellation for you, but you need to sign the exit form from MOM. For my case, my agent has their own documentation as well, where I have to write down what exactly happened. The maid also has to write that she acknowledges and that going home is her decision and sign that paper. She will then need to write a resignation letter, and will face a penalty for breaching the contract.
Note: I’ve been told that when the maid chooses to go back, she should actually pay for her own ticket. I didn’t know this at that point in time, so I paid for it. But you’d need to set up a contract saying that the air ticket price will be deducted from her salary, and get her to agree and sign to it.
With all that have happened, we have decided to take a break from hiring maids at the time being and enjoy a stress-free family life. We’d probably reconsider this when we manage to conceive #2 (hopefully in the near future)