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Singapore's maid agents looking to Sri Lanka

Publication Date : 25-06-2012


Maid agents have been visiting Sri Lanka, or are planning to do so, to hire more maids to cushion the shortfall in supply from Indonesia.

Checks by The Straits Times showed that at least seven agents aim to bring in more Sri Lankan maids in the next few months.

The Sri Lanka High Commission is arranging a meeting with representatives from the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) and officials from the Foreign Employment Bureau in Sri Lanka to discuss recruitment plans.

The Sri Lanka High Commission expects the number of Sri Lankan maids to go up to about 6,000 by the middle of next year, from about 4,500 now.

The maid agents said Sri Lanka is the fifth biggest source of maids here after Indonesia (103,000), the Philippines (70,000), India (15,000) and Myanmar (10,000).

But growth in the number of Myanmar maids has been curtailed because the Myanmar government does not allow its citizens to work as helpers overseas unless they are hired by the employer, with no middlemen involved.

Agents hope that by diversifying the supply with Sri Lankan maids, they can alleviate to some extent the reduced inflow of Indonesian maids, caused by a renegotiation of the way the cost of recruiting them is shared.

The Indonesian government introduced policy changes on May 1 that have led to Indonesian recruiters earning less in placement fees. The recruiters are putting pressure on Singapore maid agencies to pay them under-the-table money or they will stop sourcing for these maids.

Crislo Employment Agency owner Cristie Low, who plans to bring in about 20 Sri Lankan maids by the end of next month, said: 'I don't want to be put in a situation where I have no maids to offer employers.'

There are about 4,500 Sri Lankan maids here, based on records from the high commission. However, fewer have been coming over the years. It estimated that there were 7,000 in Singapore about a decade ago.

Mrs Shyamali Fernando, counsellor for employment and labour welfare at the high commission, said many women are choosing to stay at home as they can find work easily because of a booming economy.

Others prefer the Middle East over Singapore, where they do not need to pay placement fees.

Maids pay up to two months of their salary in placement fees to Singapore agents.

But Mrs Fernando is confident that more Sri Lankan maids will be drawn to Singapore now as the mandatory English-language entry test for maids was scrapped in May.

The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment also announced that from June 1, maids headed for Singapore have to be paid a minimum of S$400 (US$313) a month, up from S$325 (US$255). Maids from Indonesia and the Philippines are generally paid about S$450 a month.

Agents said they are confident that Singapore employers will take to Sri Lankan maids.

Many have a fair command of English, which they learn in school, and they also tend to be more mature. The high commission estimated that about half who work here are above age 30.

Asha Grace, who owns Blessed Employment Agency, said: "Many of the Sri Lankan maids who come here are Buddhist; there aren't big cultural differences with them and Singaporeans."

However, agents said that the maids may find it hard to communicate with older folk who speak Malay or Chinese dialects - though the maids can pick up the languages in time.

Sri Lankan maids here said they like Singapore for its safety and fair employers.

Lalitha Weerahsinghe, 47, who has worked here for about 15 years, said: "I know if I have any problems, I can go to the Ministry of Manpower or Sri Lanka High Commission for help."

Businesswoman Helen Yeo, 49, who has hired Sri Lankan maids for about 15 years, said: "They are fantastic cooks and have excellent housekeeping skills."


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