A crowd of domestic helpers enjoying picnics in their own groups at Tong Building opposite Lucky Plaza. - The Straits Times / Asia News Network
POPULAR hang-outs for maids have become more crowded over the past year, as more domestic helpers get days off.
Maids and business owners told The Straits Times that Lucky Plaza and City Plaza are seeing more Sunday visitors in recent months, as are other open spaces.
“Last time, only the front of City Plaza was crowded; now, all the sides are too,” said Kuswati, an Indonesian maid. She meets friends at the shopping mall on Sundays.
She has lived in Singapore since 2008 but started getting weekly rest days only after her contract was renewed this month.
A rule mandating one day off every week or payment in lieu kicked in a year ago and applies to all new and renewed maid contracts.
Maricel Cabauatan, 31, said that the queues to remit money at Lucky Plaza have also become longer since the start of this year – from two or three hours, to four.
“It’s very difficult to walk around,” added the Filipino maid. “If you stay there for the whole day, you will feel very tired.”
As the crowds grow, other places like parks and beaches – where people can gather without spending money – are catching the overflow.
The Botanic Gardens’ director Nigel Taylor said he noticed this trend picking up in the last two years.
“It’s been happening on such a scale that the picnicking has overflowed onto the paths and occupies public buildings to the scale of excluding other people.”
To cope, the Botanic Gardens encourages maids to have picnics on the lawns.
But the higher footfall is not translating into higher returns for some businesses.
At City Plaza, shipping service Valutaayu-Yan Cargo said that although there are more maids, they are also younger and do not have as many items to send home.
“Costlier rent and stiffer competition have eaten into sales,” said Dhayalyn Koh, manager of convenience shop Negrosanon Trading, which has been at Lucky Plaza for 14 years.
Internet cafe owner Tang Kok Eng puts it down to the tightening of labour laws that has made it harder for workers to get work passes renewed.
“The levies are higher now. People also can get Internet on their phones so maybe they don’t need to come here,” he said.
Some maids, like Holymar Loremia, 40, choose to avoid the crowds altogether.
The Filipina was at Gardens by the Bay on a recent Sunday having lunch with a friend.
“We prefer to come here because it’s less crowded and more peaceful,” she said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network