Long, snaking lines at Lucky Plaza, City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza last month led to some netizens raising concerns about safe distancing rules being breached amid the Covid-19 pandemic. What if the crowds spark another wave of infections, some asked.
Many of those in the queues were foreign domestic workers (FDWs) who wanted to remit money or buy some things for themselves.
Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said domestic workers can once again meet their friends outside their place of residence during phase two of Singapore’s reopening.
It had announced on April 11 that maids must stay home on their rest days, except to buy meals or run essential errands.
The latest announcement did not go down well with some Straits Times Facebook users, and their reactions made for uncomfortable reading.
“They better don’t crowd around at Lucky Plaza. If they spread to their employer, it’s going to be a second wave. Maid and foreign worker to employer then to their colleagues,” wrote one user.
Back in April, a WhatsApp message had claimed that the Covid-19 situation could “very quickly spiral out of control” if maids met infected workers, such as those staying in dormitories, and carried the virus back to their employers.
The Ministry of Health had said then that most of the maids who had coronavirus were infected by their employers, not the other way around.
“Your assumption that FDW are infected and will spread it to their employers is factually incorrect and your comments about foreign workers are xenophobic,” replied one Facebook user to the comment on a possible second wave.
Despite some heated exchanges online, many called for empathy and understanding. Maids – like their employers – should also have some time to themselves, they said.
“They are still humans. They deserve to have a break. I believe you too need a break after working throughout the week. I am an employer as well and I treat my helper as my own family,” said Facebook user Julez Jamil.
Others pointed out that maids have already been going out to run errands during this period, including in some areas that get crowded, while practising safe distancing.
But what about “stubborn” maids who do not follow the rules? One Facebook user cited an example of a maid who apparently went out without her employer’s permission.
The MOM said that during phase two, maids must still follow strict conditions, such as wearing a mask and observing good personal hygiene.
If they are meeting others, their group must be limited to no more than five people. They should not loiter or visit crowded areas.
Those who want to remit money should schedule appointments with their remittance agents or remit through electronic platforms.
They should also seek the consent of their employers to go out on a weekday instead of during the weekend to avoid crowds, said the MOM.
But this is likely to be an issue as many employers often have to juggle work while looking after their children on weekdays, and may not be able to cope without the help of their maids.
“Did MOM consider WFH (work from home) parents with little kids? I don’t know if they can concentrate on working while taking care of little kiddos especially if they are always on a business call,” Nie Choon said.
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Facebook user Emi Magetan asked: “Boss go to work and the kids go to school – who will fetch the kids from the schools, who will take care of the baby? How do you expect us to go on our off day on a weekday?”
Some maids, meanwhile, shared their experience of having to work during their rest days in the last two months without getting paid, and said this was one reason why they would like to go out of their place of residence when they can.
In its announcement, the MOM warned that its officers will carry out inspections and disperse large groups and outdoor gatherings. Those who do not cooperate risk being fined and having their work passes revoked.
“Bottom line is, don’t congregate in groups of more than five… Practise self-discipline. If possible, continue to stay home,” said Facebook user Vanessa Ocampo.
While maids must observe the regulations for everyone’s safety, employers should also take the time to talk to their domestic workers to explain the rules and find a workable schedule. They should also treat the maids fairly.
Many of the domestic workers are their families’ breadwinners – sending money home could mean their families being able to have their next meal, get medical treatment or pay their bills.
Allowing them the time to relax on their rest days will help them battle homesickness and loneliness, and feel more up to the task of looking after the families they work for.
Some compassion and give and take can go a long way in making life a little easier during this period.