Hands-on training: Maids being trained in housekeeping chores at Homekeeper maid agency at Hougang Green Mall. - The Straits Times / Asia News Network
A PRICE war is raging in the maid industry here as agents slash their fees to attract employers – but it is the maids who are bearing the brunt.
Now, it can cost as little as S$300 (RM765) to hire a maid, down from an average of around S$1,600 (RM4,083) six months ago, as checks with 15 agencies show.
Agents can offer such rock-bottom rates because they are passing the bulk of the recruitment costs on to the maids themselves.
As a result, the fees that the maids pay the agents have doubled, from an average of around S$2,200 (RM5,614) to more than S$4,000 (RM10,207).
Many go without wages, or earn only S$10 (RM25) or S$20 (RM51) a month for up to eight months, while they pay off what they owe in fees. Most maids here earn around S$500 (RM1,275) a month.
Agents are warning that more maids will be discouraged by the high fees and quit. Retention rates are already poor.
Manpower Ministry figures show that only 42% cent of the maids placed by agencies between February 2011 and February last year stayed with the same employer for at least a year. A standard employment contract is for two years.
Orange Employment Agency owner Shirley Ng said that maids suffer a dip in morale when they have heavy debts.
“How would you feel if you had to go without pay for eight months?” she asked. “You would want to quit.”
The key reason for the price
war is a glut in supply at agencies that have “no unique selling point other than cheap rates”, said Carene Chin, who owns Homekeeper.
Industry players estimate that Singapore has more than 1,000 active maid employment agencies.
Chin said: “Many agencies don’t have a good reputation or a strong client base. They have nothing that lets them stand out, other than cheap fees.”
However, some Singapore agents interviewed said that recruitment fees charged to maids have increased because agents overseas are asking for more in commissions.
Kerri Tan, managing director of United Channel agency, said: “When there is good demand for maids, the overseas agents always ask for more money.”
The way to prevent maids from being overcharged would be through strict regulations, migrant worker activists said. Under the current legislation, maid agents here can charge workers recruitment fees of up to two months of their salary. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network