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To help 'sandwiched' families, MPs propose a tiered levy for migrant domestic workers and stipends for caregivers

SINGAPORE — To help middle-income families who have a genuine need to hire migrant domestic workers to look after older household members, the Government could consider having a tiered maid levy based on income level and nationality.

Parliament heard that 86 per cent of migrant domestic workers now in Singapore were hired by households with caregiving needs.

Parliament heard that 86 per cent of migrant domestic workers now in Singapore were hired by households with caregiving needs.

  • There is a genuine need for migrant domestic workers to provide caregiving services in Singapore households
  • However, vulnerable families may not be able to get access to such services
  • Members of Parliament Tin Pei Ling and Nadia Samdin gave some suggestions on how to support such households

 

SINGAPORE — To help middle-income families who have a genuine need to hire migrant domestic workers to look after older household members, the Government could consider having a tiered maid levy based on income level and nationality.

And to alleviate some of the burdens borne by caregivers within the family, a daily stipend could go some way as a form of support.  

These were among several suggestions put forth by Ms Tin Pei Ling, Member of Parliament (MP) for MacPherson, and Ms Nadia Samdin of Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency (GRC), who were the only MPs to speak in Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 3) on an adjournment motion filed by Ms Tin on the role of domestic workers in Singapore’s caregiving landscape.

DOMESTIC WORKERS NEEDED AS CAREGIVERS

In her speech, Ms Tin said that it has become “increasingly important” for families to have access and availability to caregivers and caregiving services due to a confluence of factors such as an ageing population, shrinking family size and the employment of more members of the household.

“Taken together, the need for care is increasing and the capacity of families to care for their loved ones is diminishing.”

In response to a parliamentary question from Associate Professor Jamus Lim of Sengkang GRC, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that 86 per cent of migrant domestic workers now in Singapore were hired by households with caregiving needs.

Assoc Prof Lim had asked questions related to the hiring of these workers given the impact of Covid-19 entry restrictions. 

Apart from relying on maids for caregiving needs, Ms Tin said that some of her constituents have had to deal with issues such as workers’ expectations for higher pay, allegations of abuse and demands to be transferred to another employer. 

These challenges had been “fomenting” even before the Covid-19 pandemic and they have gotten worse due to the curbs on the supply of these workers due to ongoing travel restrictions.

HELPING ‘SANDWICHED’ FAMILIES

Although the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has relaxed restrictions to allow vaccinated domestic workers to enter Singapore since Nov 1, some underlying issues still need to be resolved, Ms Tin said before she outlined her proposals.

1. Levy

The first is improving access to domestic helpers for middle-income or “sandwiched” families who have to care for young and old, by introducing a higher tier of levy for high-income non-local households.

The levy now for employing a maid is S$300 a month, and S$450 for any subsequent worker. 

Ms Tin said that introducing this tiered system will help to “mitigate the imbalance of paying power”.

2. Workers’ track records

A second suggestion relates to MOM imposing a requirement on employment agencies to explain why a maid’s job contract was terminated.

Such information would be useful in allowing an employer to objectively assess prospective hires, she said.

It will also be helpful if only Singapore-registered employment agencies carry out the matching of employers with prospective helpers.

This will disallow private bartering via social media platforms, which are not regulated. 

However, she acknowledged there might be concerns that such arrangements would give the agencies “too much power” and risk raising agency fees — considerations that MOM could pay attention to, Ms Tin added. 

Other suggestions included having more stringent checks on maids with poor performance records when they re-enter Singapore for a new job, and imposing a cap on the number of transfers initiated by a worker in a year.

CAREGIVING STIPENDS, ENHANCING GRANTS

Ms Nadia suggested that the authorities could consider introducing a points-based system for the Home Caregiving Grant.

The grant is a S$200 monthly cash payout to support caregivers of individuals who need some assistance to perform three or more activities of daily living such as feeding and dressing oneself.

It can be used to defray the costs of caregiving expenses that include the hiring of a domestic worker.  

To qualify, the care recipient must be either a Singaporean or permanent resident, and live in a household where the per capita (per person) monthly income is S$2,800 or less, or if the annual value of property for households without income is S$13,000 or less.

Ms Nadia said that vulnerable groups or families may fall through the gap with the grant’s requirements.

For instance, a dual-income couple with an aged mother and two young children may find themselves needing a helper.

Yet, they may fail to qualify for the grant because the mother, who has chronic health issues, needs assistance to perform just two activities of daily living instead of the stipulated three or more.

“Even though hiring a migrant domestic worker may be the least expensive option (to assist the family), this ‘sandwiched’ class of families will be paying the full price (to do so),” Ms Nadia said.

The Government could explore a points-based system where the number of activities of daily living and the household per capita monthly income can be tiered.

A combination of these scores would provide a “fuller picture” of families in greater financial need, she added.

A daily stipend for part-time caregivers could also be introduced under the grant, she proposed.

Citing the example of the Kupuna Caregivers Program in Hawaii in the United States, Ms Nadia said that it provides a daily stipend to a caregiver who is working 30 hours a week.

“This allows caregivers to continue working in some capacity, or dial back at work while assuming caregiving responsibilities.” 

RESPONSES TO PROPOSALS

Ms Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State for Manpower, who was responding to the adjounrment motion on behalf of the Manpower Ministry, agreed that domestic workers play an important role in supporting households here.

Addressing Ms Tin’s suggestion of a higher levy for non-local high-income households, Ms Gan said that the Government already pays “special attention to local households” with caregiving needs.

This is why only households with at least a Singaporean member with care needs are eligible for the concessionary maid levy rate of S$60 a month. 

All non-local households, with or without caregiving needs, pay the non-concessionary rate of S$300 a month.

She also highlighted that some employers have managed to get by without hiring maids by tapping institutional care options or engaging companies under the Household Services Scheme to meet their domestic cleaning needs.

As for the other suggestion to have just Singapore-based employment agencies do job-matching, Ms Gan said that more than 80 per cent of employers here hire domestic workers through such agencies. 

For the remaining employers who prefer to hire their helpers directly or by other means to avoid incurring added costs of engaging an employment agency, disallowing them to do so will inadvertently increase the cost of hiring.

To meet the demand for domestic workers, Ms Gan said without going into detail that MOM will diversify the countries from which they are hired.

Even so, there will “continue to be competition for migrant domestic workers, not just locally but also from countries in the region”, she pointed out.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report stated that Ms Tin Pei Ling suggested introducing a higher tier of levy for high-income non-resident households. This is incorrect. It should be high-income non-local or non-Singaporean households. We are sorry for the error.

Related topics

Parliament foreign domestic workers Migrant Workers caregivers levy

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