Is it reasonable for domestic helpers to work 17 hours daily? - Alvinology

Is it reasonable for domestic helpers to work 17 hours daily?

The International Labour Organization recommends 48 regular hours of work per week, with a maximum of eight hours per day as the ideal general labour standard. 

In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower recommends up to 9 hours per day or 44 hours a week for contractual workers whose hours of work are 5 days or less a week; and up to 8 hours a day or 44 hours a week for those who work more than 4 days a week. 

At the upper limit, employers are recommended not to make workers clock more than 48 hours a week, capped at 88 hours in any continuous 2-week period. These recommendations are all enforced and covered under Part IV of the Employment Act.

However, what if the workers are domestic helpers who work at home? How do you count which are the hours they are working, given that they “work from home”?

Jolovan Wham, the executive director of Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), a Singaporean non-governmental organisation that provides services to, and advocates on behalf of, migrant workers, recently shared this encounter of a domestic helper who ran away because she could not stand working 17 hours daily:

Shared Wham:

“She worked for months without a single day off and ran away because she was exhausted and traumatised by the verbal abuse. When she returned to the employer to collect her belongings, he locked her up and refused to let her leave the house. When we learnt of it, Damien Chng who spent a few weeks volunteering with HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics went down to the house and called the police.

At first, she was not allowed to come with us. The police took the employer’s side and insisted that if she wanted to leave the house, they would have to put her in a lock up at the police station. But finally they relented after Damien argued with them for close to an hour and she was brought back to the shelter.

Below is her schedule given to her in writing by the employer, who lives in a flat in Sengkang West with his family. She told us it was hard to keep to the timings and could only rest close to midnight. She decided to go home rather than file a complaint at MOM.

In our experience, even if she did, she would be repatriated anyway and not allowed to seek an alternative employer if the current employer does not consent. There is usually no hope for justice in such cases. Overwork is not considered a serious offence by MOM, unlike being asked to work in an employer’s commercial business, for instance, which will be investigated.”

Her full schedule is as shared below. Is it too punishing and demanding?

Would you be able to accept the same working condition as this domestic helper had been made to endure?

530am: Wake up and bath

540am-630am: Keep kitchen ware and utensils back into respective cabinets. Prepare children’s water bottle, milk bottle, milk powder, handkerchief into school bags. Place school bags on dining table and sir’s bag on dining chair. Prepare Sir’s water bottle, take out one packet of tissue. Eat your breakfast. Take out previous day newspaper and write down notebook. Collect newspaper from door. Dust floor if timing allows Change diapers and uniform for children

650 to 725: Send children to school

730am to 12pm: Clean up bedrooms, 3 step cleaning (sweep, dust, mop) all rooms plus living room. Set up bathroom for L1’s bath and master bedroom. Wipe all children’s toys. Can proceed to carry out additional tasks. Marinate meat for dinner (if any)

12pm Lunch

1230pm -2pm: hand wash children’s clothes and sir and mam’s clothes. Wash laundry and clean up according to additional tasks in table (continued)

3pm-5pm: Prepare dinner. Remove all clothes in service yard to study room. Cook dinner

5pm to 530pm: Mop kitchen floor, prepare bathroom for children’s bath. Set up dinner on dining table. Set up high chairs. On TV switch. Close windows. Make sure all electrical appliances in kitchen (fridge door closed, stove off) is off. Sweep and dust floor again. Check children’s room for insects.

545pm: Meet sir at bus stop (sir will call you for exact timing). Make sure door and gate locked.

615pm: Bring L to room, let him drink water

630pm: Clean up bathrooms after children’s baths. Unpack school bags, remove school paper announcements wash toy in bag.

645pm: Prepare dinner for children–feed L1/L2 dinner.

7pm-730pm: Prepare dinner for sir/madam. Mind the children while sir and madam eat. prepare fruits for sir/madam and children.

830pm: Prepare milk for L1.

840pm: Eat your dinner

9pm: Prepare milk for L2

9 to 1030pm: Place standby milk and hot flask in respective rooms. Wash utensils, milk bottles, clean sink. Clean and wipe rice cooker parts. Clean kitchen stove and table surfaces. Sterilise milk bottles. Take out soybeans to soak and remove meal for tomorrow’s meal to thaw in fridge. Throw rubbish and lock door and gate. Mop kitchen floor. Mop living room. Wipe sofa and play mat. Wipe toys (Saturday nights and when kids are unwell). Shut windows and door blinds.

1030pm: Bath and rest time.

The amount of cleaning work seems manifestly excessive. The “sir” to the domestic helper seems to be a handicap or mentally challenged individual who can’t prepare his own water bottle and needs someone to pick him up at a bus stop. In all, the family seems extremely lazy, expecting to be waited on from head to toes.

While the schedule may seem punishing, it is probably not that different from how many other employers of domestic helpers in Singapore are pushing their employees. I find it sickening that some people cannot differentiate between an employee and a slave.

Many commentators to Wham’s post shared the same view as us, with some asking for Wham to name and shame the family directly, while others compared it to modern slavery:

Is it reasonable for domestic helpers to work 17 hours daily? - Alvinology

Is it reasonable for domestic helpers to work 17 hours daily? - Alvinology

Is it reasonable for domestic helpers to work 17 hours daily? - Alvinology

What do you think? Is the shared work schedule reasonable?

Or should we wait till the domestic helper is half-dead or dead before we take action?


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