Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Maids are humans like you, not slaves

The motto of my secondary school is ‘’Daughters of a better age’’.

Talking to my friends and ex classmates of my alma mater recently, I wonder if they had come from the ‘’stone age’’.

During the entire lunch from 12.30 – 2 pm, they bitched and bitched and bitched about their maids. What stimulating conversationalists these graduates, and former students of Singapore’s top secondary school, make. This is not the first time they went on and on about the topic of domestic helpers. Each time the group gathered to celebrate one another’s birthdays, the conversation invariably turned to how bad their maids are and how frustrated they are about their ‘’attitude’’.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying maids are saints. There are enough horror stories about the social issues they create and even about how they abuse their charges (kids).

What I am referring to though, are gripes and ridiculous restrictions my friends have. One of them disallows long hair and actually sent her back when the maid requested ‘’permission’’ to keep her hair long. In re selecting the ‘’perfect maid’’, she has criteria like, ‘’cannot have boyfriend back home’’, and ‘’must not be the only daughter at home’’ (according to them ‘’the only daughter tends to be ‘’pampered’’ back home and hence unable to do hard work).

Of course, there are other restrictions they impose, like, ‘’cannot own hand phone’’, and ‘’cannot have a single day off’’. And when they do not say ‘’thank you’’ when presented with extra food (eg, durians), they bitch that they are rude. And when they ‘’slouch’’ in the car, it means ‘’they have bad attitude’’ and the ma’am gets upset over their ‘’bad attitude’’, because ‘’even I don’t slouch when I sit’’.

Of course, they justified the ban on hand phone because they have seen one or two who use them once too often. And they are afraid they would blog, tweet or post on FB the ‘’ill treatment’’ they receive from their ma’am. In fact, another big criteria for selecting maids, as they compared notes at lunch, is to select those that are not ‘’educated’’ so that they can’t blog or post on Twitter and FB.

Ha! If you don’t ill treat them, would they post nasty things about you? And just because you don’t have FB or Twitter accounts, it does not mean they can’t either? Back to the fundamental point – they are human beings. They have every right to have a mobile phone to keep in touch with family and loved ones. You can set ground rules and limit phone usage to certain hours, but why the blanket ban – ‘’cannot have hand phone or I’ll send you back immediately’’?

One of my friends even said, ‘’ the government wants women in the workforce, yet they impose maid levy, want us to supervise them when they clean windows, to increase their pay, to give them one day off… how can we women cope? We are so tired working…’’

You tired? But maids are not tired working 7 days a week without a single day off? I say, YOU are spoilt rotten.

Four hundred dollars salary a month salary is too much?  They are worth that if not more. What is $400 a month when they work for 7 days a week without a break, when, in just one swipe of your credit card, you charge thousands of dollars for your Prada bag within seconds?  And what makes you think a highly educated VP in a large company like you is worth more and deserves to rest on weekends rather than supervise window cleaning?? It looks like your education in a top school has gone down the drain. 

Maids are human beings with emotions just like you. They are neither robots nor slaves – try telling yourself (or your adolescent daughters) you can’t have boyfriends? Or can’t have long hair? Yes, if you are SIA and you have a dress code or company policy strictly tied to your ‘’image and brand’’, then by all means come out with a clear ‘’HR policy / dress code’’. But you are a household of THREE – husband, wife and a teenage son – can’t have long hair due to ‘’hygiene’’ reasons just because ma’am prefers short hair??!! Surely something can be worked out – like asking her to tie up her hair or wear a scarf while cooking or preparing food? Even SIA provides alternatives – if an air stewardess has long hair, she is to have it tied into a chignon.

You might as well say, ‘’don’t have menstruation ‘cos it will stain the bed sheets – go take hormone pills to stop that’’???

Then the ma’ams complained that they do not greet them and their parents, are sullen and not appreciative. It’s common sense – people are nice and respect you if you deserve it. If you talk to them in a condescending and punitive way (the way they described their conversations), then who will be nice to you? I would have thought that, as a teacher in a top secondary school, and very senior management in a large company with a team to lead, you would have known better. And may I remind you, ma’ams, this is the 21st century, not slave age. And you are living in modern Singapore, not ancient Rome or imperial China, or even in a monarchy like the UAE.

A friend of mine blamed the government for the ma’am’s behavior. Like a typical Singaporean – blame the government for everything, even for our own prosperity and for jacking up the cost of private housing, ‘cos we are too prosperous.

He said, ‘’the government charges so much for every little thing, that people start counting the cost of being kind. This probably explains your friends’ attitude toward their maids. For example, if I let my maid go to FB, then she can’t complete her tasks so I can’t max out on her salary and the maid levy. If I allow her to use her mobile phone, she will be distracted from her duties.’’

My response: if we explain away our behaviour as an outcome of government policy then we are no better than stray dogs (or bitches in this case); surely we are accountable for our own civilized behaviour and moral compass.

Oh – one more thing – the most ridiculous of all. The maid who got sent back for wanting to keep long hair actually calls back occasionally to wish them Merry Christmas or happy birthday. And this gesture is taken to mean ‘’she is longing to come back’’, or viewed cynically, with obnoxious comments like, ‘’wah, so nice ah, she actually keeps in touch’’. Even when the maid told them during the calls that she would not come back in the near future, the ma’am feels snubbed and acknowledged that, ‘’actually she was quite good, compared to the rest who came later… it was just I hated her wish to keep long hair…’’.

Ma’am, like I say, they are humans. Aren’t you ashamed they behave more human than you? She rings back to wish your lovely kids happy birthday, and made it clear she won’t return ‘cos she has started a family and has a new born too! Yes, don’t forget – they are humans and can have relationships, boyfriends and also babies and family, just like you do.

By now I wanted to gag. I made an excuse to say I had another appointment to rush to, and left the group…


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly. I was once at a hawker centre when I heard someone yell "eh". I thought they were yelling at me, so I turned around. I saw an older couple, probably in their mid to late 50s looking just off to my right. There stood a domestic help. I turned round just in time to see the man MOTION to the domestic help to pour his beer. And she obediently walked up and did so. I was appalled to say the least. I have a friend who locks the house from the outside when she leaves so that the domestic help doesn't go mingle with the other domestic help and pick up bad habits. I asked her what happens if there is a fire. Her reply was, the maid can climb out through the window... on the 18th floor!!!

Friday, June 22, 2012 7:21:00 AM  

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