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SUNDAY TIMES Aug 22, 2010 When maids moonlight on days off Some take on an extra job for the extra income; most employers don't mind By Elizabeth Soh At popular hangout Lucky Plaza, some maids set up makeshift stalls offering manicures and pedicures to earn extra income. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING Indonesian maid Ummi, 37, cooks and cleans for a household of seven and gets a day off each week. Just like most other maids, she heads to City Plaza to buy phone cards or to chat with friends. But unlike them, she buys up to 20 of such top-up phone cards at one go, and not for herself. Ummi runs an enterprising business from these cards. By buying them for $20 and reselling them for $26 to the maids in her neighbourhood who do not get days off, she makes a tidy profit of around $240 a month. That is more than half her salary of $400. Foreign domestic workers are taking up sideline jobs like selling phone cards, giving cheap manicures and dabbling in multi-level marketing to earn extra income. Over at popular maid hangout Lucky Plaza, a small group of about ten Filipino maids have set up makeshift manicure stands along the walkway to Mount Elizabeth, charging just $5 for a simple buff, shine and polish. 'Just because we're domestic workers does not mean we don't want to dress up and be a bit more glamorous,' said Ms M. Garlejo, 28, who sports well-manicured red nails. 'But obviously we cannot afford to pay $15 at a nail salon.' She was trained as a nail technician in a salon in Cebu, but gave it up for the better pay of being a maid in Singapore four years ago. 'The extra money I earn is enough to pay for the school fees of my daughter, two nieces, and their textbooks for an entire year,' said Ms Garlejo. 'I am prepared to sacrifice my days off for them.' It is nearly impossible to tell how many maids moonlight, as most employers are either unaware or choose not to report them. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it investigated 14 foreign domestic workers in 2008 and nine last year for moonlighting. But domestic workers' welfare organisations say it is occurring on a large scale. 'I only do this on my day off,' said Ummi, who supports a husband, elderly parents and five children back home in Java, Indonesia. file:///C|/Users/saroja/Documents/ST2204.html[23/8/2010 9:35:06 AM] SUNDAY TIMES 'I do my job well and I help other maids who cannot go out and are lonely at home, so I don't think it is wrong.' Having worked in Singapore for the same employer for almost 15 years, Ummi has access to a network of about 10 other maids in the Changi neighbourhood where she lives, and the phone cards are discreetly passed over fences or at the playground. She has been selling phone cards for about a year and was introduced to the idea by fellow Indonesian maids, whom she met at the mosque she frequents every week. A check with three second-hand mobile phone shops in City Plaza confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of foreign domestic workers who are buying the phone cards in bulk purchases of up to 30 pieces at a time. 'This extra income is all I have,' said Indonesian maid Tini, 28, who sells five or six cards a week. 'I have to work for the next two years to pay off my employer and agency; this is the only money I can send home.' Multi-level marketing has also been an alternative source of income for maids with wide networks. Last year, an employer wrote to The Straits Times Forum page, voicing concern over his maid paying to join a multi-level marketing company. She had paid $300 for health-care products which she then intended to sell to other maids. 'Even if I don't sell it to other maids, maybe the people I meet at the market will be interested,' said Indonesian maid Fatin, 36, who signed up as an agent for a Jakarta- based multi-level marketing company that sells herbal skin treatments. Sideline jobs run afoul of the laws in place for foreign domestic workers. In April this year, acting on a tip-off, the MOM conducted a raid at the Lucky Plaza five-foot way where maids ply their nail services, and issued warning letters to 12 of them for breaching the conditions of their work permits. 'MOM reminds all foreign domestic workers that they are only allowed to perform domestic chores for their employer and at the residence as stated in their work permits,' said Mr Tan Yong Kiang, assistant director for media, promotions and education, adding that foreign domestic workers with sidelines are liable to be fined up to $5,000 and imprisoned for up to six months. Mr Desmond Chin, 45, director of Nation maid agency which has six branches islandwide, said all maids are told the conditions of their work permits during their orientation. 'Their focus should be on being a helper and they should not get distracted,' he said. But most employers The Sunday Times spoke to either do not mind or support their maids' business ventures. Out of 30 employers interviewed, 18 said they were supportive, five said they did not mind, while seven objected to their maids moonlighting. 'As long as my maid does her main job well, there is no reason why she cannot do what she wants on her day off,' said retired teacher Mary Lim, 54, whose Indonesian maid has worked for her for seven years. Engineer Ernest Chong, 35, whose maid is the primary caregiver of his two children, agrees. 'They earn so little, what's wrong with them trying to make a little more through honest means?' he said. file:///C|/Users/saroja/Documents/ST2204.html[23/8/2010 9:35:06 AM] SUNDAY TIMES Migrant worker advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) feels the focus should be on the problems that make domestic workers turn to sideline jobs. 'The low wages of Indonesian and Sri Lankan maids don't measure up to the rising standards of living here. Looking at fair wages should be the concern,' said Ms Shafiyahtun Najak, communications manager at TWC2. Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC Lim Wee Kiak felt that while foreign domestic workers should be sympathised with, it is more important to reduce the potential for other problems should sideline jobs be permitted. 'I am afraid by taking a relaxed stance, they may be subjected to abuse and exploitation,' said Dr Lim. 'Employers may now request their domestic help to do other sideline jobs instead of what they are here for.'ï¿½ file:///C|/Users/saroja/Documents/ST2204.html[23/8/2010 9:35:06 AM]
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