Maid woes revisited

warning: extremely long entry

I bought the local papers this afternoon and read the article "My Maids of Horror – The New Paper” with great interest as it was definitely a topic that I can relate to (while mine is not as dramatic as the story reported). It has been two years since we employed our first domestic helper and we are already on our search for the fourth one. Before you ‘accuse’ us of being fastidious employers, please read on.

The Job Scope for our domestic helper:

- Cleaning/up-keeping our slightly-bigger-than-1,000 sq ft apartment

- minimal cooking (mainly for herself)

- caring for our 2 year old when we are busy (i.e. a couple of hours per day when I am at work); feeding, changing diapers/toileting and playing with her.

- caring for our small house dog (walking him once a day, ensuring he has his meals & water and bathing him twice a week)

- laundry and ironing

- washing the car once or twice a week (depending on her workload for the week)

She is paid the market rate for inexperience domestic helpers, with 1 off day per month (decided by the agency).

That’s it. Are we asking too much?

Let’s go back to the 1st domestic helper we hired – she was an Indonesian from the kampong (countryside), barely spoke and understand English. In fact, dh and I were picking up Bahasa much quicker than her picking up English, if not out of sheer desperation to communicate our instructions to her. I even bought her 3 translation dictionaries (Bahasa to English & English to Bahasa & a basic instruction communication book for domestic helpers) & sent her for english classes to help us communicate.

Truly, we understood that she was from the countryside and would require some ‘adjustment’ to our high-rise society and we gave her ONE WHOLE YEAR but there was still no improvement in her work. We give her credit for being hardworking (always cleaning) but that was it – nothing else we can give her credit for. After one whole year, I was still ranting over the same mistakes she made in the beginning. And when we sent her back, we found our things among her possessions.

We then moved on to the second domestic helper – this time choosing instead, one from the Philippines, after deciding that our 1 year old would need someone who can speak English since she was starting to talk. This lady was about 10 years older (we don’t like young helpers) and as a result, she was frequently ‘complain’ about body aches and headaches. In addition, she was really forgetful (she puts it to her age) and hardly (bothers to) remember our instructions. She was also really emotional and would burst into tears when we reprimanded her for doing anything wrong (heck, she starts tearing even when we praise her!). On the upside, she was rather quick in her work and the house was relatively well kept. To that, we definitely give her credit.

However, after being with us for about 10 months, she insisted on returning home – she said her mom was terribly sick. We did not have the heart (nor the reasons) to hold her back and thus allowed her to return home 3 days after she made that request, without finishing her 2 year contract and leaving us without a domestic helper once again.

In case you think she was great, she wasn’t. On her 1st ‘off-day’, she sneakily brought home a mobile phone, even though we had clearly expressed from the beginning that we were against her owning one. I found out only after a couple of days when I caught her texting someone. When I discover the mobile phone, she claims that her cousin gave the phone to her and that it was a damaged set - she could only text and not talk with the phone. I confiscated the phone (since it was understood from the start that she would not be allowed to own one) but allowed her to have it back when she went for her next ‘off-day’ so that she could communicate with her cousin & family (she had bought a pre-paid card for the phone after all and it was be a waste of her money if the credits expire). The 2nd ‘off-day’ was when she came back and told us (in tears) that her mom was seriously ill and made the urgent request to go home. Thus, I allowed her to keep the mobile phone by her side so that she could be updated on her mother’s progress and ‘miraculously’, I noticed that her mobile phone was in working condition and she could talk to her brother for hours.

Despite her imperfections (we know that its not possible to find a perfect maid), we did not have major issues keeping her with us until her contract is up. We even gave her the option to go home to see her mom and returning to work for us. She was, however, adamant about not coming back as she was unsure of her mom’s condition (her mom has since passed away).

Onto our 3rd domestic helper – one from the Philippines again since our 2 year old is now capable of communicating her needs/wants clearly in English. My family has hired domestic helpers for as long as I can recall (both my parents worked and I was left to the care of these ‘foreign talents’ since young) and I have never met a Filipino who did not speak and understand BASIC English (she calls a ball – balloon and doesn’t know what is a pail/basin/bucket) like this helper that we have now. It is clear that this lady is from the countryside and did not receive the much-touted training the agent claimed to have given. E.g. she used one piece of cloth to clean my entire house, i.e. the cloth was not washed at all. I had to repeatedly ask her to carry a small pail with her so that she could rinse the cloth after wiping surfaces. In a separate incident, I SHOWED and EXPLAINED to her twice how to switch on my washing machine. Its no rocket science, really – there are 2 power points in my yard where the washing machine is located – one clearly with the washing machine wiring connected. All she needed to do was to turn on the power point, press ‘on’ and followed by ‘start’ – that’s all, 3 steps! The 3rd time, I asked her to show me how she would do it and she turned on the power point WITHOUT the wiring and attempted to press ‘on’ on the washing machine!

In the past two weeks, we have tried speaking slowly and using simple words, and even actions but she still doesn’t understand us. We can’t communicate with her, my parents can’t communicate with her and Claire sure can’t communicate with her (in fact, I think Claire knows more English than her – to think her bio-data states that she was educated in English for TWELVE years) and we are not about to start learning Tagalog.

So we are now on our search for the fourth domestic helper – this time round, insisting on interviewing them over the phone before deciding.

So do we have too high expectations? Are we fastidious? Or are we just unlucky to get such ‘quality’ helpers? I do beg to differ – everyone I know who has gone through the agony of hiring domestic help has a story or two to share.

I really do think that the industry needs to be more regulated. My nagging thoughts:

- How did these maids get ‘short-listed’ to be domestic helpers or is there no short-listing criteria at all?

- Are we really getting the ‘leftovers’ since countries like Hong Kong and Taiwan is reputed to pay these domestic helpers more?

- Why is it that they can pass the English test set by MOM when it is obvious that their English standard is hardly there? Is it because the maid agencies provide them with the ’10 years series’ to memorise? Shouldn't it be an oral test instead of a written test since employers hardly communicate with their helpers in writing?

- Shouldn’t there be some form of training provided by these agencies that take a payment from us every time we get a maid from them? Basic training like how to switch on power points (since they are mostly from the countryside), how to mop floors and clean houses?

- How much truth is there in the ‘bio-data’ provided by the agencies since that is really our only point of reference without the opportunity to meet and interact with the maid in person (except for transfer maids)?


mingnjien said…
There is no truth in the bio-date. And I agree we need more employer protection! But how?

I also read the article about the many maids and I feel sorry for employers.

Maid agencies do not have an incentive to provide/select good maids because they are not penalised in anyway. Obviously working on "conscience" doesn't work for them. So until MOM comes up with something to regulate the industry the employers are really "beggers" waiting to be exploited by the agencies and maids.

It's a can of worms they are probably too afraid to open.

Hang in there...think about your little baby inside...

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