Foreign Domestic Workers are strongly encouraged to stay at home on their rest day. Employers should not assign work to FDW’s on rest day or they can compensate in lieu.
– MOM notice
With notices about COVID-19 situation from MOM regarding domestic workers rest day, many domestic workers are now worried if they can still have days off.
Many employers asked their domestic worker to stay home because of the current COVID-19 situation. The number of infected people are increasing everyday, and they are worried that their domestic worker will get the virus. Mainly because they can see the way domestic workers mingle with each other. This situation now has become the problem of many domestic workers. Their rest day is the only time they can do their personal errands; like sending money to their families, buying their personal necessities and meeting friends. Though MOM suggests that they can do their errands on weekdays when places are less crowded, it is still different to when they go out on their rest day. This is the time too when they are free of work, fully relaxed.
Many domestic workers worry that when they stay home on their rest days, they will continue working without compensation. This can happen to domestic workers who do not have their own rooms or personal space. They will be forced to work, since they have nowhere to go to. Being at home with their employer will surely feel like just another working day. Some employers offer compensation to make it easier for their domestic workers to choose to stay at home.
Let’s take my own employer as an example. They talked to me about the importance of staying away from the crowded areas like Orchard Road, and said it might be better to stay home. I did not understand it at first. I told them, that I know how to take care of my self and practice social distancing. But after a while, when we talked about it again, I realised their concerns were not only for them, but for me as well. It was not about stopping me from my normal Sunday activities. It was purely about safety for all of us. If I refrained from doing my activities for a while, I will be safer.
Anyway, there are alternatives that I can do if I choose to stay home or to go out. In our conversation, my employer and I discussed what I can do if I stay home. They gave me choices like, I can stay home and sleep as much as I want. I can do my writings, exercise, or swim. I f I want to cook or bake, they will buy what I need. And if I choose to do some work, they will compensate me.
I tried it. The following Sunday, I would have preferred to go out. But this time, I let them know where I was, so they would not be worried. I did not go to my volunteer activities, nor to church, as both would involved being around a large number of people. I stayed around our building and saw some of my friends in the condo. We had all chosen to go out of the house, but stayed in our area. I think we all felt the same: that it was good to be away from our working place for a while, to have some time for ourselves. Staying close to home is something new for me but I know it is for my own good. I enjoyed my Sunday.
Discussion between employers and domestic workers regarding this current situation is important to understand one another. Apparently, not all employers are like mine, they don’t explain their reasoning. And we domestic workers, do not have a power of negotiation. No matter what we say, it is seldom taken into consideration. There are times that we don’t have a choice but to say “Yes” to avoid arguments. Some domestic workers might insists on going out because this is the only day they can be away from work. I hope employers will try to understand them. They must explain properly to their domestic workers why it is needed to stay home.
Domestic workers should understand their employers too. Safety is for everyone who lives in the house, particularly if there are elderly or otherwise vulnerable people in the house. If you are allowed to go out, refrain from going to crowded places. Especially avoid gatherings in big groups or having picnics for now. We should follow social distancing guidelines. Go out only if you need to do something very important.
The Ministry of Manpower is strengthening inspection and law enforcement. If we do not follow, our work permit might be revoked. Remember there are many countries right now that are in total lock down, where nobody is allowed to go out at all. If we practice social distancing diligently now, maybe in Singapore it does not have to come that far.
I know this current situation on COVID-19 is difficult for everyone. But this too shall pass and one day, our days off will be back to normal.
By Robina (Bhing) Navato
(Featured Image by Straits Times)