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Southeast Asia, explained

Singapore: at long last, maids get a weekly day away

Maids are so crucial that even a day off is viewed, by some, as an untenable luxury.
Singapore maids 2012 03 06Enlarge
Newly arrived domestic helpers from Indonesia wait for their transportation to a maid agency after going through medical check in Singapore on March 6, 2012. (ROSLAN RAHMAN /AFP/Getty Images)

Maids in Singapore, rejoice: starting next week, you can finally leave your boss' domicile once a week and enjoy a day off.

In Singapore – a tiny, affluent economy surrounded by poorer nations – maids are considered indispensable my many working families.

According to the government, there are roughly 200,000 domestic workers employed on the 5 million-population island. That's a full 4 percent of the nation's inhabitants.

Maids are considered so crucial that even one day off is considered, by some, to be an untenable luxury. But starting in 2013, all newly contracted maids must be offered a weekly day off by government law, Singapore's Straits Times reports.

But there's a big catch: families can squeeze out maids' extra rest day if they pay more and, as Human Rights Watch writes, "there is significant risk of abuse that employers may coerce workers to sign away their day of rest."

But even in non-abusive homes, maids eager to scrounge up as much cash as possible to send home may reject the day off for extra money. It's possible that the law won't seriously alter the status quo: non-stop seven day work weeks.

Still, the option of a day off – if properly enforced – could be a game changer for some. Situations in which maids far from their homes in Indonesia, Malaysia or the Phillipines work in near-total captivity are well documented.

As one maid working in Singapore told Human Rights Watch in a previous report:

"I was not allowed to go outside. I never went outside, not even to dump the garbage. I was always inside, I didn't even go to the market.I felt like I was in jail.It was truly imprisonment.I was not allowed to turn the radio on either.I could only see the outside world when I hung clothes to dry."

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/singapore-maids-day-off