It is 2016. And once again, the issue of domestic helpers being barred from condominium swimming pools by management committees has resurfaced. The latest condo revealed to carry out this practice is Four Seasons Park at Cuscaden Walk, in an article published on online real estate site Property Guru.
The practice of barring maids from condo swimming pools is not new. Back in 2011, The New Paper polled 20 condominiums and found that 18 have such a policy in place. 13 of the condos further added that they permit domestic helpers to enter pools if they are accompanying residents’ children in order to avoid the “risk [of] being sued”.
In other words, many, via their condo management committees, are only comfortable with domestics using common facilities as part of their job scope, rather than recreationally, socially or simply for themselves.
This says a lot about us and our prevailing attitudes towards our ‘maids’. We have trouble seeing past their occupational role and recognising the very human beings who make our houses, homes. Human beings who are sensitive to our actions to exclude them from our society.
The crux of the argument against letting domestic helpers use condo pools has largely been that although they legally live with their employers, they are not defined by condo by-laws as ‘residents’ and therefore are not entitled to use condo facilities. Part of the appeal of condo living is exclusivity after all.
Even when they do have permission from their employers, domestic helpers still have prejudices to contend with. Speaking to The Pride, Joan (not her real name), 36, has been working in Singapore since 2002 and stated, “I can use the pool but I don’t want to because I am not comfortable… It depends. If my boss tells the guard “My helper will be using the pool,” he cannot stop me. But there are some people who will stare at you and ask questions like ‘Are you allowed to use the pool with us?’ It’s normally the local people that don’t like us using the pool.”
When asked why that was so, Joan paused before answering waveringly, “Hygiene?”
While some have tried to rationalise the ban by pointing out that cleaners, gardeners, guards, and condo management are also prohibited from using condo facilities, there are others who see things differently.
Migrant worker group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) has condemned the practice as discriminatory. Speaking to The Pride, HOME executive director Sheena Kanwar pointed out that unlike staff in other occupational settings, domestic helpers live on the premises. “Their situation requires them to avail themselves to the common facilities. Common taps. Common toilets,” Ms Kanwar explained. “Why not the pool?”
The status or situation of domestic helpers is also unclear as they are not covered by the Employment Act. This has led countries such as Indonesia to announce plans to stop sending new live-in domestics abroad, amidst broader concerns for the well-being and work-life balance of its outgoing citizens. Delineating spaces may be one solution to class tension, but it is a blunt one that discourages integration between domestic helpers and their surroundings.
With the large presence of foreigners in Singapore, racism and bigotry are important conversations to have, and those who welcome these domestic helpers into their own homes may well be the most effective agents of change in this effort to eliminate prejudice.
Ms. Kanwar said that HOME has received “a few calls” from employers in the last few months demonstrating concern about the exclusion of domestic helpers from condo facilities where they live. Referencing an incident she knew of where residents took matters into their own hands by challenging and changing their condo’s by-laws so that domestic helpers were allowed the right to swim, she said, “It’s about people coming together to demand for what they think is right.”