“With immediate effect, maids are no longer allowed to clean the outside of windows, unless strict safety conditions are in place, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said” (Stricter Rules For Maids Cleaning Windows, Mr. Sujin Thomas).
The news report “Stricter Rules For Maids Cleaning Windows” (June 5, 2012) by Mr. Sujun Thomas: following the statement that domestic workers are only allowed to clean the outside of windows under strict requirements, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) deserves praise for a few reasons. First, the enforcement of legislative and punitive measures are important, because they set noticeable precedents to deter employers from unnecessarily endangering the lives of their domestic workers. Second, MOM has reiterated the significance of educating the domestic workers on the proper ways of handling laundry and cleaning windows, through programmes and safety messages.
Nonetheless, I have been most impressed with the MOM’s decision to engage representatives proactively, to gather an assortment of different perspectives on the present tragedies, before coming to a sensible decision. Given the worrying number of deaths and the acknowledgement of the potential dangers following investigations, it would have been convenient to slap a blanket ban on window-cleaning entirely.
The endeavours undertaken by the MOM should serve as a timely reminder that public consultation processes are imperative, and is the key to positive, balanced policy recommendations. A cursory scan through MOM’s blog and FaceBook page should that employers, domestic workers and members of the public hold very dissimilar opinions. No policy is going to please everyone, but the implementation of stricter rules – at the very least – reinforces the notions of safety awareness in the households.
Can More Be Done?
The present arrangement, which includes the caveat that precautionary measures – such as physical supervision and the presence of window grilles – must be in place, appears to be an ideal compromise for all the stakeholders. The effectiveness of this strategy is premised upon two factors: first, communication between the employer and domestic worker must be healthy, so that a give-and-take relationship can be established (here); second, education – and accompanying legislative solutions – merits attention. The MOM can do little to address the former, but can certainly enhance the latter.
Employers would receive circulars and materials detailing the safety requirements, but the sending of these publications could be made more regular to serve as constant reminders. The precautions must be made explicit. At the same time, domestic workers themselves – not just members of the public through SNAP@MOM – should have the information how to report transgressions if they feel that their safety has been compromised (though employers could purport that this might be open to abuse).
Two welfare groups, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) have proposed additional recommendations to assist domestic workers in Singapore, but they should be cognisant that any proposal should also take into consideration the interests of the employers. There are already disgruntled employers who feel that the assumption of additional roles and responsibilities may be unfair, and their points cannot be ignored or dismissed. The pedantic adherence to an “us” versus “them” mentality will yield no meaningful benefits.
MOM has instituted a respectable model through this exercise, and should continue to emulate its merits in future endeavours.