Amelia Tan & Amelia Tan Hui Fang – Straits Times
Singapore. Most of the maids who fell to their deaths from heights in the past two and a half years were cleaning windows, but worker welfare groups want maids hanging out laundry to be closely supervised too.
A day after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that maids will no longer be allowed to clean the exteriors of windows unsupervised, foreign worker welfare groups such as the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said the next area of focus should be the hanging of laundry outside high-rise homes.
They said this practice can be as hazardous as window cleaning.
The MOM’s investigations show that two of the nine maids who fell from heights and died while working this year were hanging out laundry. Five of the nine deaths happened while they were cleaning windows. The other two cases are being investigated.
The ministry noted that the majority of the maids involved in work-related falls from heights this year were cleaning windows.
“Over the last two and a half years, this was the case as well,” it added.
The welfare groups, in asking for more vigilance, pointed out that bamboo pole sockets are installed outside HDB flats. It can be tough to slot the pole inside the socket when the pole is heavy with damp and heavy laundry.
Responding to Straits Times queries, the HDB said bamboo pole sockets are still used in the majority of flats, but are progressively being replaced with devices such as external drying racks that support both ends of the pole.
But more can be done, as John Gee, an executive committee member of TWC2, said: “It would be silly if we are able to stop maids from cleaning windows in a dangerous way but pay no attention to the hanging of laundry, and find later that maids are falling because of that.”
Home president Bridget Tan said hanging laundry out to dry and cleaning window exteriors should be banned totally.
Gee said the MOM should make it compulsory for employers to demonstrate to their maids how to hang laundry on poles in a safe way, and then get employers to check once a month that their maids are doing what they have been taught.
He also suggested that these guidelines be enforced under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations.
Maids interviewed agreed that hanging laundry outside high-rise homes can be dangerous. Filipino maid Lorevie Tan, 34, said: “I dropped a piece of clothing once at the window ledge, and I tried to use a bamboo stick to grab it back. Half my body was leaning outside the window.”
Indonesian maid Farida Riani, 26, said windy conditions scare her: “The wind blows strongly and the pole with clothes or bedsheets is very heavy to carry. I feel like I can lose my balance.”
On Monday, the MOM announced that maids can now clean window exteriors only when their employer or an adult representative is around to supervise.
Window grilles must be installed and locked during such work. These rules will apply to all homes except those with windows at ground level or windows sited on a floor with common corridors.
The MOM also said it is looking into ramping up penalties for employers who fail to provide a safe environment for maids. Fines may be doubled from $5,000 and jail terms doubled from six months.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times