For close to two years, administrative assistant Angeline Teo had no problems with the maid that she had hired for her family.
After all, the maid – who hailed from the Philippines – was hardworking, attentive, a quick learner, and importantly, had established a great relationship with Teo’s young daughter.
In short, Teo and her family were perfectly happy with their maid.
That was until Teo found out, by chance, that her maid had been dating a migrant worker in the construction industry.
“Generally, my husband and I don’t really monitor or dictate where she goes and who she meets during her days off,” Teo told The Pride. “We always assumed that she would just hang out with other maids, so it was quite a shock to us when we spotted her out in town one day behaving intimately with a man we didn’t recognise.
“When we asked her about it, she admitted that the man was her boyfriend, and that they had been seeing each other for about three months.”
The revelation that their maid had a boyfriend left Teo and her husband in a dilemma, as the two disagreed over the appropriate way to deal with the matter.
For Teo’s husband, who was worried about the potentially unsavoury repercussions of allowing their maid to have a boyfriend, putting an end to the relationship was the best course of action to take.
Teo, however, insisted that they should not interfere in their maid’s personal life. She explained: “I believe that everyone is responsible for their own lives and actions. She’s an adult in her mid-20s, I don’t think it’s right for us to control how she lives. We have to trust that she’s mature enough to do the right thing.
“I can also imagine how lonely she must be – she has travelled alone to a foreign land to work in a job that doesn’t allow her to really socialise much apart from during her days off, so it’s only natural for her to desire an intimate and romantic relationship.
“Of course, my husband had his points, too, in that allowing her to get into a relationship could lead to undesirable consequences. For example, she could get pregnant, and we’d have to send her back. Worse still, she might be tempted to bring her boyfriend home when we’re not around. Also, her work quality might suffer because she’s distracted by the relationship.”
Teo and her husband eventually decided to allow their maid to keep the relationship, on the condition that she would keep her personal life completely separate from her work.
“We had a talk with her to make it clear that she was free to live her personal life however she liked, but that she was fully responsible for her actions outside of work,” Teo said. “We also set clear boundaries for her to ensure that she would not mix her personal life with her work, and more importantly, our family.
“It has been more than a year since we had that talk, and thankfully, everything has gone well since. She’s still performing her duties well, and we haven’t had any trouble arising from her relationship so far.”
But, while both Teo and her husband are now fine with their maid having a boyfriend, there are many others in Singapore who worry about their maids getting into romantic relationships.
However, John Gee, Chairman of the Research Sub-Committee for Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), claims such negative examples are the exceptions rather than the rule.
Speaking to The Pride, he said: “It’s certainly the case that a lot of employers seem to obsess over the question of allowing their domestic worker to have relationships, and circulate stories that serve to confirm the most alarmist views.
“But all problems must be put in context. There are currently over 240,000 domestic workers in Singapore, so it is not fair to pick on the relatively few reports of problems arising when workers get into romantic relationships and use them to justify imposing restrictions on an entire group of women.”
Gee also clarified that employers are not financially liable or responsible for any medical expenses should their maids get pregnant or fall ill as a result of their relationship.
“An employer is not liable for a domestic worker’s personal behaviour,” Gee explained. “If a maid gets pregnant, she will not be allowed to give birth in Singapore, and so will be sent back home.
“As long as the employers have made the consequences of becoming pregnant clear to their worker, then they are covered, and will not suffer the forfeiture of the (S$5,000) bond.
“Likewise, if their worker gets a disease, then the sensible thing to do would be to advise her on where to go to be treated. The employer is not obliged to insure against this, and would be entitled to insist on the worker meeting any costs herself.”
Ultimately, though, Gee asserts that maids, like any other profession in Singapore, should be given the freedom to make their own decisions on their romantic relationships.
“Domestic workers are not a species apart. Yes, they can make poor judgements and things can go wrong for them, but that is true of any people in their relationships,” said Gee. “However, they are grown women, and it is rather ridiculous to try to bar non-family members who are adults from having romantic relationships.
“Like with anyone else, being in a relationship can make maids feel good, raise their morale and give them a sense of being valued and loved. Their partner can be a source of emotional support for them, as they now have someone who they can share their feelings and problems with (in person). Importantly, being in a relationship can provide them with something to look forward to amidst a life of work.”
Gee’s three tips to managing a domestic worker who is in a relationship:
1) Make clear to your worker the consequences of pregnancy
2) Set clear boundaries on your worker’s partner’s access/non-access to your property
3) Come to an agreement with your worker on the conditions of phone usage – ensure she understands that it should not distract her from her duties