She will get rotten
“If she is allowed out every Sunday she will get ‘corrupted’ by other maids”, said a member to me when I shared my view that God cares for maids too and wants them to have a weekly rest. She would learn tricks and be emboldened to resist “mam”. She would compare pay and conditions with other maids and come home with a sour attitude. She’ll spend more money, and worse, get involved with a man outside. What if she gets pregnant? I’d lose my deposit. Which of course I knew were all possible consequences.
Singaporeans are busy people and having a maid costs quite a tidy monthly sum. They want to maximize every cent. They are a tired lot, what with both husband and wife working in normally stressful jobs, and having to tutor the children in their school work. Having a maid around the house was a great help. When the weekend comes the couple is deadbeat and they often are tempted to keep the maid home so that they can snatch some quality rest amidst ferrying the children to all kinds of activities.
The maid needs a rest day
Somehow employers find it hard to look at the positives of maids having a weekly day of rest. The maid needs physical and emotional rest from the grind and stress they face all day and night, six days a week, serving a family of a different culture. Added to that the maid comes from a family she left back home and she may have problems of her own: loneliness, debts, problems back home, and plain tiredness from endless tasks, if not having any problems with her “mam” (which is highly unlikely – even with a Christian “mam”).
Day of rest refreshes
The day of rest gives her time to connect with her own kind, de-stress by talking about her problems, gain practical advice on how to cope with the Singapore family expectations and cross-cultural difficulties. The maid may even by her own initiative get enriched through training courses. She returns home refreshed after eating comfort food from home and just being with friends and acquaintances who are going through the same hardships, problems and joys. Employers who look at the positives of letting the maid have a day off are rare. They are mainly “angmohs” and the more enlightened Singaporeans.
Law to make rest day mandatory
Finally after 10 years of appeals by the The Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants & Itinerant People (ACMI) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), and other groups like Transit Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the Singapore Committee for United Nations Women, such a day of rest is finally going to be reality. Hong Kong and Taiwan already has such laws. So beginning 1 January 2013, all maids given contracts will by law have a weekly day of rest. However all 206,000 maids in Singapore already under contract will not benefit from the force of this law. Since Christians are a good 15% of the population of Singapore and most of the families with young children would hire a maid we are talking about a good number of maids employed for Christian families. As family is one of the key areas of transformation that Love Singapore churches are seeking to influence with kingdom values, what is the ideal stance towards this day of rest issue? A look at a bit of ancient legislation in a tiny Middle East nation may offer wisdom:
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deut 5).
God’s compassionate heart for maids
Interestingly the concern of God for his creatures to rest goes beyond the family and the children at home: it included the servants. And the foreigner. And even the animals that work the farm. Note that in the verses above Israel’s law code revealed God’s heart for the powerless: “male and female servants” was a repeated phrase, as though to underline the most vulnerable. Secondly, the rationale was that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and never had a rest day, and should of all peoples, understand the need of rest of those in their own community, both the foreigners and servants (just as they were foreign workers/servants in Egypt). It does remind one of Jesus saying, Do to others as you want others to do to you. Lastly, that little phrase “as you do” at the end of verse 14 is telling. Just as the employers need rest, so do the servants.
Walk in the Spirit
Of course, Christians are no longer under the civil law code of ancient Israel. However, the spirit of the law is what Jesus would have today’s believers discern and exercise. It invites us to treat animals, foreigners, and in particular, servants (or maids) with due concern for their their physical welfare, one that mirrors our concern for adequate rest for our own sons and daughters. A believer of radical grace would go even farther. And this farther does not mean coercing them to go to church on Sundays with the family, so that they get “saved”! The intention may be pure and noble, but if the means to the end is morally wrong, it is wrong. On the other hand the intention may just be a pretext and excuse to have the maid relieve the family of child care burdens. There are of course maids who prefer to go with the employer out of love, for economic and other reasons, and there is no quarrel with that. There are also those employers who give them a choice and even paid them more for the extra day of work, as suggested by a panel that $15 be paid for making Sunday an additional workday(with the maid’s consent). One way the second mile can be walked by Christians transformed by grace is to not wait till the law is enforced in Jan 2013. Grant them the day off or option to work with pay, not later in 1 Jan 2013, but with immediate effect. My hope is that this is not necessary because you have been doing so all along, in which case you have been walking in the Spirit!