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Can Singapore cope without domestic helpers?


Founding Editor

I know many people will be upset with this article. They include parents who will wring their hands in despair at having to cope without a domestic helper. Domestic helpers, too, will worry that my article is aimed at depriving them of the right to a job.

But let me share with your my experiences as a Singaporean working in a foreign land, and bringing up three young kids, two girls and a boy.

I spent a total of 20 years working in Kuwait and Dubai. Two of my kids were born in Dubai.

As a working parent, I spent long hours toiling in newspaper companies, at night too. But I loved my work and the expat perks made it worthwhile. In simple words, the job brought with it a home, a car and annual vacations to any part of the world, all paid for by the company. But life can be a tough grind, especially if you work long hours in the office and also make an effort to look after the family. 

Bringing up kids and caring for them is a daily exercise as all domestic helpers know, and hopefully, all parents, too. The kids have to be fed, educated and kept in good health.

Having a good housekeeper – sometimes wrongly described as domestic helpers – is a blessing. But being able to employ a good housekeeper can be a luxury that not all households can afford.

The solution: sharing of the household chores – by both parents.

As an overseas working parent, I did the shopping for groceries at night after work, where I joined the payment queue with other denizens of the night – drunkards after a night of gallivanting, ladies of the night stocking up on condoms and the like, weary husbands like me lugging bags of groceries.

In the morning, after driving the kids to school, I would head for the wet market to buy fish, prawns, vegetables and stuff like that. Then it’s off to work…

It was a routine that was only broken by a weekly day off on Friday when I would take the kids to the beach.

Back in Singapore, the routine continued. These days, with no more kids to ferry around, I have got rid of the car. The MRT and buses are quite good. Cross fingers, I have yet to experience one of those traumatic MRT breakdowns.

With fewer people in the house now, we have also dispensed with the services of a live-in domestic helper. I now take care of putting the clothes into the washing machine, hanging them out to dry and taking them in, when rain threatens. I also do the cleaning of the house, which reminds me I need to get a better mop, one of those things that wrings itself dry without too much effort on my part. It costs $60, too much I think, but it should prove a good investment.

I also clean up the cats’ litter box. I have inherited the cats from the kids. The kids are gone, but the pets remain and at times, they can get a bit too much, throwing up all over the place, as old cats tend to do.

There will come a time when the wife and I will need a caregiver when we get too old and weak to look after ourselves. I am not looking forward to that just yet.Still, we are a nation of rapidly aging seniors, like the people in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong.Beyond doubt, Singapore will continue to need foreign caregivers. A time will come when we in Singapore will have to accept that domestic helpers and caregivers will come under the ambit of Singapore’s Employment Act.We will also have to accept that such workers may chose to live outside the home of the employers, in dormitories perhaps.Parents of young kids will have to rely on state-run or commercial daycare child centres to look after their kids, while they are at work. This is already the practice in many homes.

These days, now that I am retired from MediaCorp, my last employer, I work from home.

I also do much of the work that a traditional stay-at-home parent does, something I learned from my mom as a young kid.

I just hope my kids – and their partners – will have picked up the hands-on, can-do approach that all parents – man or woman – should have, in managing home and family.

Clement Mesenas is a third generation Filipino-Chinese Singaporean.

5,000 caregivers headed for Japan: Salary – 50,000 pesos a month

Japan is about to open its doors to 5,000 Filipino caregivers, who will earn at least 50,000 pesos a month (that’s about Singapore $1,500). Qualified nurses who work as caregivers for elderly folks at home can earn 150,000 pesos a month (that’s close to S$5,000). In addition to caregiving skills, they need to know Japanese, which is a language Filipinos can pick up without too much difficulty. A Filipina working as a hostess in a Japanese-style pub in Singapore wows her customers with her ability to sing Japanese songs.

Many Filipino caregivers will undoubtedly head to Japan in the coming years.

An enterprising friend of mine has started, an online portal which links full-time as well as freelance/part-time caregivers to care-seekers in Singapore. The group’s joint venture, CareGiverUSA, operates a similar business in the United States where caregivers have to be citizens or green card holders.

That same procedure could well become the norm in Singapore, where Singaporean caregivers take up work by the hour, and are paid according to their skills.