Tuesday, June 21, 2011

These maids are getting out of control!

Maids are in the news again. Maids in Singapore are a hardworking bunch. Many of them have to wake up at 5:00am and work nonstop until after midnight. The first thing they do in the morning is wash the car. They do this every day, even if the car has been unused since the previous day and is still sparkling.

We sometimes hear of a maid who isn’t given enough food. As cheap as food is here, some maids only get one or two slices of bread a day. Fortunately, they can sometimes get a bit of extra food from a neighbor’s maid.

Quite a few maids fall to their death each year while cleaning windows. The government has tried to teach employers how to safeguard their maids, but they still keep splattering on the pavement. I suspect many of them lean out too far because they are terrified at what might happen if they miss a spot. Many employers abuse their maids for the slightest reasons. And the abuse is not a simple slap or punch as you might expect. An informal SORRI survey of newspaper accounts over the last twelve years suggests that the most common forms of maid abuse are:

Beating her with a bamboo pole, broomstick, clothes hanger, or cooking spoon

Smashing her head into the wall

Scalding her with boiling water

Burning her with a hot clothes iron

For some reason, pinching her breasts is also a popular form of abuse.

Once in a while an employer (usually a woman) goes to jail for maid abuse, sometimes for several weeks, but these punishments are very light compared to those meted out for other offenses. I am sure many more instances of maid abuse never become public because the maid is paid to keep quiet, or she is too terrified or ignorant to take action. Some maids are sent home before they even earn enough to repay the loans they took to come here, thus going home in worse financial shape than the poverty that drove them to come here in the first place, simply because they were cursed with a lousy employer.

There has been talk of making it mandatory for employers to give their maids one day off every week. Predictably, most of the talk from the street opposes the idea. Some complain because they need their maids every day to take care of elderly parents, young children, or invalids. But many are more concerned that their maids will get into trouble by getting boyfriends, getting pregnant, or doing part time work. The thinking seems to be "I'm not paying her to have a life, I'm paying her to work."

To these people I'd like to say:

Your maid was a human being long before she became "your" maid. Her time off (if any) is hers. If she wants companionship on her day off that's her choice. If she gets pregnant she'll be on the next flight home, so it won't be your problem. If you're worried about the expense of sending her back and replacing her, that's the risk you agreed to when you took her. And Singaporeans tend to admire ambitious go getters of the non-maid variety, so why is it so bad if a maid wants to earn extra money? They didn't come here because they want to care for your family, they came to make money to support theirs.

In addition to giving maids tests to determine whether they are suitable to work here as maids, we should test would-be employers to determine whether they are worthy of having a maid.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bank speaks Plain English

OCBC Bank announced that they have adopted the Plain English approach. They will begin using simple language instead of legalese for their contracts with customers.

When I was in law school twenty five years ago we were taught to draft documents in Plain English. For example, instead of writing “cease and desist” we would write “stop.” I thought that was a good idea. When you’re charging a client a princely sum to draft a document it is only fair that said client should be able to peruse and comprehend said document, regardless of the cranial capacity and level of intellect of the aforesaid client. As a young attorney I began using simple language in my documents and turned them over to the senior partner for his approval. He would take out his red pen and change all my “stop”s to “cease and desist”s.

If OCBC can get these past their legal department it will be a welcome change.