Singapore sees shortage of maids; employment agencies attribute this to lack of new applicants, employers retaining their helpers

Singapore sees shortage of maids; employment agencies attribute this to lack of new applicants, employers retaining their helpers
TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — When Ms Reena Garg’s foreign domestic worker returned to her hometown in India for a two-week break earlier this year, no one expected that she would not be able to return to Singapore. But just a day before the maid was due to board a flight back to Singapore in late March, the government of India issued a nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic that prevented her from travelling. Having recently lost her job, Ms Garg said she urgently needed to find another domestic helper to tend to her two young children so that she could look for a job, but she had been unable to find one. 

"Even if I worked from home, I'll still be working and won't be able to look after the kids," the 34-year-old Indian expatriate said. She is not alone; other Singaporeans TODAY spoke said they have had difficulties finding maids or were having fewer options of who they can hire. 

For instance, expectant father Nicholas Lam and his wife hired a Filipino despite her asking for a salary of S$750. Although the monthly wages for domestic help in Singapore could be higher, it typically ranges from S$450 to S$600, depending on the worker’s nationality and experience. 

The couple eventually agreed as their son is due next month, and they needed someone to help lighten their load. Several employment agencies said there is a shortage of maids, caused by a dearth of incoming workers as well as employers extending the contracts of their current helpers. LACK OF APPLICANTS, UNCERTAINTY OF FLIGHTS Mr Brian Tan, a director at the Nation Human Resources maid agency, said most employers are retaining their helpers because finding a replacement would be difficult. 

MOM This is partly due to the uncertainty of obtaining flights and the possibility that they could be cancelled or rescheduled. Agencies need to seek the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) approval for a maid to enter Singapore. 

If approved, the MOM would specify three dates for the maid to enter. “However, there is no guarantee that the workers would be able to exit the source country,” Mr Tan said. Read also: ‘I felt very homesick’: Domestic workers head out on their rest day for the first time in 2 months Postponed or cancelled flights could result in the entry approval being invalid since the next available flight could fall outside the timeframe indicated in the entry approval. “Perhaps the Ministry of Manpower could keep the timeframe open for a longer period to accommodate such last-minute cancellations by airline companies,” Mr Tan said. Mr Mark Chin, the managing director of Homekeeper, agreed that demand currently outstrips supply, with fewer maids applying for jobs. “We could have a few hundred resumes a month in the past from various nationalities, but now it’s just 20 or 30.” 

He believes this is partly due to lockdowns in major source countries such as Indonesia. Even if there are workers willing to come to Singapore, they would be required to take a Covid-19 test before their departure, and they could be held up if the results come out late or they turn out positive. This could result in the employer forfeiting a S$1,700 payment to the Singapore authorities for the helper’s stay-home notice accommodation and swab tests. The cost is payable even if the maid does not enter Singapore. To avoid paying this, the agency will need to submit a request to cancel the entry approval at least five days before the arrival date. The approvals are not necessarily a given, as the agencies TODAY spoke to said they have faced multiple rejections. 

On Tuesday (Oct 6), in a written parliamentary response to a question from Member of Parliament Gan Thiam Poh, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that entry approvals for work-pass holders are limited to reduce the importation risk of Covid-19 and protect public health. During the circuit breaker from April 7 to June 1, MOM approved 630 entry requests for domestic workers, mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar, out of about 4,100 entry approval applications and appeals, Mrs Teo said.  

When contacted by TODAY, MOM declined to disclose data on entry approvals before and after the circuit breaker. The Association of Employment Agencies has asked MOM to grant more entry approvals for domestic helpers, said its president, Ms K Jayaprema, pointing out that the maids help to support the economy indirectly by freeing up employers to work. 

“For a lot of families, it's not a luxury to have a domestic helper but a necessity (to help with caregiving),” she said. Read more at

First Publish by LOW YOUJIN