Maid in Singapore: Christian perspective

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.

Stressed out

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. maids at Orchard resting and with friendsAdded 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!

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  • I used to have maids while I was in Singapore.
    Principle of rest is critical to me, be it for myself or for my worker, including my maid.
    My weekly guideline is this:
    During weekday, in the day time, her duty is children’s safety and security, thus it is ok to have slightly untidy house. But when I am back, she is not to touch the children, but to clean up and rest. In this way, I will also build family bonding with my children, while she will have sufficient time of her own after 7/8 pm until next morning.

    During weekend, we go church together. She (Muslim) is free to have her own fellowship, but no need to look after children (about 5/6 hours of free time, including lunch). After church/lunch, we will either go home, shopping or park. She will be with us as a family, playing with my girls. (May be she is young, she can really click with them).

    I gave her a choice of Day Off or stay with me. It is easy for her to make that decision. She chose to work on Sunday. For her, she has the pay plus the freedom to mix with friends, and not much work to do. Beside lunch (if she eat with friends), she don’t spend much month too. My principle is, no need to clean the house on Sunday (Sabbath) unless necessary.

    • Mel, you wrote:
      “……rest is critical to me, be it for myself or for my worker, including my maid
      That’s a sensible posture to take, to consider the other’s need as if yours.

  • Thanks for your note. It is refreshing and meaningful.

    As a Christian in a Methodist church I am encouraged and saddened that most of the lobbying and effort in the past 10 years to provide maids a rest day have been done by non-Christian groups and the Catholic church. I am encouraged because it is the right thing to do and saddened that other Christian groups are by-en-large silent on this matter.

    Many church leaders in Singapore are not clear with their congregation on this issue. One church leader told me when I asked him why the church leadership is not vocal & clear on this matter to the congregation, he replied to me ‘they (the congregation) should know’. Another church leader, a senior lay leader, told me quite directly that he doesn’t have a maid at home so its not his issue.

    There are many things that Christian church leaders don’t like talking about. One is discrimination and discriminatory practices amongst their congregation members like the poor treatment of maids and foreign workers.

    I know these are difficult and unpopular issues and there is a lot of fear to raise them, but I hope & pray that Church leaders in Singapore can speak out more often especially for foreign workers in Singapore.

    The unusual thing is that non-Catholics have a lot to learn from the work of The Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants & Itinerant People (ACMI) but very few go to ACMI to learn from them.

    Thanks again for your insightful blog,

  • Dear Blogpastor

    Thank you for your detailed article on the FDW rest day. I think it is an excellent interpretation of the Bible on the rights of workers specifically migrant ones. Our Catholic social teaching is based on the same principles and is one of the reasons ACMI was setup in the first place in 1998.

    ACMI would be more than willing to share our experience working with migrants in Singapore to anyone who is interested to learn more. We reach out to all migrants including maids, construction workers, foreign wives, foreign students, etc. Just give me a call at 62805424.

    God bless


  • It’s very sad when pastors lack the courage to stand up to people and tell them the truth. I am reading this blog from Vancouver, Canada – my former pastor here once was pastoring a church and he was frustrated by the amount of sexual immorality his church. So he boldly preached a sermon rebuking it and calling people to repent to Jesus, and half the people left the church – pernamently. As a pastor, sometimes you need to be offensive to people, and especially to Christians who should know better. My wife was once a Filipino domestic helper. Thanks for having the courage to speak out on this issue.

  • I would like to add that the keeping of the moral laws of Moses, eg the law of Sabbath, is good for the lives of humans on earth, but it could not bring them to heaven, to be with God the Father, after they die.
    ….Only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who willingly died n offered Himself as the Lamb of God – the perfect sacrifice that could atone for Adam’s original sin, could bring humans to heaven. Adam had caused all humans to be born with evil hearts/flesh = bound for hell/spiritual death(GEN.2:17). This salvation from hell is a free gift or Grace from God. Humans do not hv to pay any money, make any self-sacrifice or do any work to earn or get this free gift/Grace from God. Only faith in Jesus.

    So, it is wrong for any Christian to teach that the keeping of Moses Law or the moral laws of Moses(for Gentile Christians) can bring humans salvation(heavenly blessings from God) after they die. This is what Judaism still teaches to the Jews, ie the Jews could inherit eternal life by keeping Moses Law. They had rejected Jesus as their Messiah/Christ/Savior, ie they had rejected the Grace of God. They preferred to stick with the Law.
    ….It is not wrong for any Christian to teach that the keeping of the moral laws of Moses will bring them earthly blessings from God. Even law-abiding citizens will be blessed/rewarded by their govts, generally-speaking.
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    There r some Churches who do not keep the law of Sabbath or the day of rest for their lay members. On Sunday, the usual day of rest for lay members, these Churches will organize lots of activities or God’s-works for them, eg fund-raising, mission work, witnessing, hospital ministry, prison ministry, concert rehersals, Bible study, etc.
    ….In these Churches, Sunday activities for the lay members can be even more hectic n strenuous than their normal work-days, resulting in them, effectively, having no rest day, ie they work 6 days for their company n work on Sunday for their Church.
    ….I think these Churches should hire more Church-staffs to do God’s work, esp for Sunday.

    I think most pastors r only busier on Sunday but quite free on the other days. By right, they should only hv one day of rest in a week n do God’s work on the other 6 days.
    ….At JOHN.21:15-17, JC commanded His pastors/shepherds to feed His lambs n tend His sheep, ie to diligently teach the Word to new or just born-again believers n guard mature believers, individually or one-on-one, in order to protect them from the enemy, the devil. Every single soul who comes to His Church or the body of Christ, is very precious to Him.
    ….Pastors may need to hire assistants to help them accomplish this.

    In mega-Churches, that hv thousands of members every Sunday, the pastors do not even know most of their members on a personal level, what more to feed or tend to each of them, individually.
    ….Pastors of mega-Churches hv become more like K-pop idols, to be idolized by the members/fans from afar. The pastors’ teachings become a one-size-fits-all, ie one teaching for all, irrespective of the maturity n spiritual level of the many members.

    So, I think small Churches with about 100 members, r more practical n effective for the advancement of the kingdom of God.

  • Oh dear…I have got it all wrong all this while..please pray for me that i will have the grace to change to treat my maid fairly. My heart pain is that we have been so good to her treating her like our own family member but she did not. She took advantage of that and giving us hard time. My mistake was we did not give her rest day much but will do now. For some reason I was so blinded of the rest day for maid too.

    • Dear Zania,

      We do what is right in God’s sight. It does not automatically produce the desired response we want (gratitude, productivity, conscientiousness). It is to please the Lord.

      Like all humans, domestic helpers have their imperfections (temperament, upbringing, past wounds, cultural influences), and we have to bear with, communicate and work with them.

      I sympathise with your family but commend you for treating her kindly. May God’s grace and wisdom be with you.

      I am glad I am past this stage. After the third child my wife and I felt its best she gave up her job and become a stay at home mum. No regrets.

  • Any thoughts about muslim maid praying in our house? She has been with us for 3 years with no issues. Recently, she went back for home-leave and came back in headgear which I understand as all women are to be in headgear when they are there. She came back, removed everything but I chanced upon her in headgear and praying on a mat in the room one evening. I am not comfortable yet I don’t want to be unreasonable. How do I approach this situation?

  • Hi Cherylene
    Many Islamic traditions require the head to be covered during prayer. This is however not evenly practiced everywhere. It’s a good opportunity to open a dialogue with your helper that would give you a better understanding of her faith, and vice versa. Was she awakened in her faith, or did it out of relious conformity. It’s also an opportunity for family education. It is also a chance for you to express what you prefer. Is it okay if she wears it only in private prayer or when she goes out? Do you prefer she does not wear it when in your home? It is best if expectations can be clarified, reasoned, spoken about and agreed upon so that anxiety, fears, misconceptions can be allayed. Hope this helps.

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