Whether you want to employ a live-in maid or a live-out cleaner, getting help around the house is a common and relatively inexpensive process here in Singapore. Once you’ve followed the rules and filled out the forms, simply retire to the couch and lift up your toes – the vacuum’s coming round again.
Before you start
Do you have what it takes to hire domestic help? We don’t mean your interview technique (although we can tackle that too, see below), we mean do you have the essentials in your house? From household necessities like dusters and vacuums, to a room in your home for a full-time maid to sleep in – the checklist is longer than you think.
Who will you hire?
The number of Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) living and working in Singapore varies according to which source you read, but in all cases the figure is in the hundred-thousands – for women travelling here to work as a domestic employee, either full- or part-time, this is a well-trodden path.
The ladies are mostly referred to as “helpers”, a useful modern term that gets away from the more old-fashioned “maid” stamp and describes the role accurately.
MOM guidelines state that helpers must be aged between 23 and 50, with a minimum of eight years of formal education and they must be from approved countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. If they are new to Singapore they must attend a Settling-In program, and then an agency will find them work, for a fee.
When a family moves on to a new country, their helper will often be passed to another family, a process known as a “transfer”. This is beneficial for both maid and employer – she will avoid costly agency fees and you get to hire someone on personal recommendation.
How much will it cost?
• Cleaners, part-time helpers and babysitters typically charge anything from $10-$20 per hour. Full-time, live-in FDWs charge from around $450 up, though it’s not unheard of for large families with lots of children living in large houses with plenty of stairs to pay more. Such families can sometimes have more than one helper, or a helper and cleaner combination.
• Employers of FDWs must pay a monthly government levy of $265* on top of the helper’s salary.
• Employers are responsible for their helper’s food, drink, regular medical check ups, basic medical costs, and insurance. Most pay for their helpers to travel home each year, or biannually, so that’s another built-in cost, and there is also the question of the annual bonus (some do, some don’t).
• If you use an agency, they will arrange all of the paperwork for you and you will pay them a fee for this. This includes an insurance levy and can total up to $1,000 depending on the agency.
• Finally, don’t forget the EOP (Employer Orientation Programme) exam, $20-$30 (see below)
The legal stuff
Anything employment-related in this town is heavily legislated, and hiring domestic help is no different. Anything legal takes time, so start the process well in advance.
• Can you hire a helper? You need to be a Singapore Citizen, Permanent Resident, an Employment Pass holder or hold a DP. See our Work Permits guide if you’re still not sure which is which.
• Start with getting your SingPass (Singapore Personal Access password) –which you’ll need it to start the hiring process as well as for any other transactions with Government services. If you’ve not yet had to get one then now’s the time. Your ID will be your NRIC or FIN number and you can apply at various counter locations or online.
• Now take the EOP (Employer’s Orientation Program), either in person or online. This course takes you on a tour of what it’s like to employ a helper, and the purpose is to ensure you are following the recommended guidelines.
Finding a helper
Agencies – For most people this is an efficient and easy way to get a helper, as the agency will recommend employees, so all you need to do is interview them. All the checks and paperwork are prepared for you, plus good agencies can help you find the right person for your family. An agency is also duty-bound to help you find a different helper if your first choice doesn’t work out. For full-time, live-in FDWs, we like Prestige Management.
Transfer – As mentioned above, this is where a helper transfers from one employer to another, and it’s a great way of finding a helper, since you are able to interview not just her but the employer as well. It works both ways – the helper gets a new home that the previous employer is happy with (if all goes well), and she also swerves the costly agency fees. Ask around, via email if needs be, look on supermarket notice boards, and keep an eye on public forums.
DIY – With transfer helpers you still need to do all the paperwork, and you can get this done by an agency or do it yourself (we know, some of us have done it), with just the very last paper-shuffle being handled by an agent. This will certainly save you money but the process is stressful and lengthy – so it really boils down to how good you are with forms and legal terms.
If you’re looking for hourly home cleaning services, Helpling is your answer. It matches you with experienced and insured local cleaners in your area, and charges an hourly rate of $20 an hour for a single booking. There is no binding contract, or any additional third-party and registration costs. Plus, the company screens all its cleaners through multi-step interviews and background checks, so you can be sure you’re not letting in any dodgy characters into your home.
To make a booking for the first time, all you need to do is to select the number of hours needed, fill in your address (and register for an account at the same time), choose your preferred date and time, then pay securely online with your credit card. Payment will only be processed after the job is successfully completed. Happy with the service? You can engage your cleaner again conveniently as preferences are saved on the system. Recurring booking (weekly or biweekly cleaning) are cheaper, too, at $18 an hour.
EXCLUSIVE FOR HONEYCOMBERS READERS! Use the code ‘cleanwithhoney‘ and enjoy 40% off your first five bookings. Valid for regular weekly or biweekly bookings until 31 August 2016. Visit Helpling’s website for more information and get started.
Much has been written about how to interview your helper; go onto any forum and plenty of ready-made questions come up:
• Where is she from? Does she have a family? Has she done any courses, and would she like to? What’s her favourite way of spending a Sunday? Without intruding on her private life, you can find out more about who you are hiring.
• Ask her to describe a typical day – this gives you a chance to listen to her language skills, and allows her to talk.
• Ask her to describe her favourite meal and also to describe how she makes it – another good chance to listen out for language skills.
• If you’re hiring a helper to help with the kids, it’s a good idea to have them present while you’re talking, so you can see how everyone gets on.
More helpful tips here.
Preparing her room
Standard helper’s rooms in Singapore are notoriously tiny and kitting them out can be a task in itself, so don’t leave it until the last minute. In many properties the designated helper’s room is the bomb shelter, but if you can find somewhere with a proper space for the purpose, so much the better.
MOM guidelines dictate that her room is somewhere that is safe, private, and well ventilated, and if possible gives her space of her own. Before she moves in, ask how much she is bringing with her so you have some idea of what to buy – some maids might be given furniture by their previous employers who are leaving. Ikea is a popular choice for beds and basic side tables. Try to build in an open shelf or two to maximise space and help your new employee feel at home.
Settling in and setting schedules
Do some homework in advance. Before your cleaner or helper starts work, draw up a list of what you expect: a rota for cleaning, weekly shopping list, kids’ timetable and meal plans can then be presented in a ring-bound file along with a few House Rules:
Let her know what you expect, whether or not you want her to take the kids on trips and out and about. Any special instructions or babysitting tips – like not to chat on the phone while the kids fang off up the street on their scooters?
• Meal planners
From packed lunches to evening meals, here’s your chance to have home-cooked food to order.
Most FDWs and employers agree to a set day off each week (usually Sunday), and MOM recommends you give public holidays by agreement. Guidelines vary, but recommendations are that you allow your maid certain rest periods within the day. Discussing expectations and agreeing on tasks will help create a happy home for you both. She needs to be able to provide an efficient service and if she is too tired then that won’t be possible. Combining your needs and her working potential should ensure that you employ someone who can carry out her job effectively and comfortably, and in a way that suits you, all at the same time.
What if it’s not working out?
Cultural differences are probably the biggest bugbear of strife between employer and helper, and although neither party will ever understand exactly the other side of the coin, it pays to bear in mind that some actions might be taken with the best intentions.
Helpers are also not mind-readers, and just as you would describe a task to an employee at work, so it pays to do the same at home. Explain tasks carefully, double-check to make sure they have been understood, and if not, sit down and work out why.
MOM suggests trying to resolve any dispute by discussing it at home. Contact your agency if that still isn’t working, or MOM themselves, who offer a free conciliation service on 6438 5122. Of course it works both ways, and there are some interesting clauses in the MOM guidelines for employers of FDWs – change your helper more than four times in one year and you will be invited to re-sit your EOP (see above). Serious mistreatment of a helper will result in a blacklisting for employers.
Images: Blue House International, ST Forums (24 Feb 2014)