“Fast delivery”. “$1 maids”.
Advertisements comparing maids to goods are not seen any more at Katong Shopping Centre and Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, two months after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) warned against insensitive advertising.
Demeaning banner ads and signs have been taken down, while notices revealing “maid fees” happen to be covered up in both centres, which house about a dozen maid agency each.
Also, rows of maids generally seen seated outside the agencies are no longer there, a practice which MOM had considered “unacceptable.”
Businesses supervisor of Maids & Manpower Agency, Mr Bernard Ryan, used to have the biodata of maids shown on his agency fees as well as his shop window but has since removed them.
Maid agents declared that MOM officers had seen visited them several times within the previous month to ensure they follow the guidelines.
A MOM spokesperson said its officers had spoken to maid representatives after it issued an advisory in July, requesting them to make sure that all advertisements treat maids with “essential esteem and human dignity”.
She said that agencies that were found to not be in conformity with the advisory were open to the guidance given by our officers and easily obeyed.
Ms. May Phua, general manager of May Myanmar Services, for instance, understood she wasn’t expected to publicise her fees but failed to realise that the sign bearing the phrase “fast arrival” was likewise forbidden.
A MOM officer told explained that the ad proposed the maids are like commodities. She afterwards used masking tape to cover the signal up.
After Arab news agency, Al Jazeera reported that some agencies showed or advertised like commodities maids here, the guidelines had been issued by MOM. It mentioned Bukit Timah shopping centres and the Katong as locations where such practices were found.
Maid companies which did not resort to the questionable marketing strategies have welcomed MOM’s move. They said it ensures that maids are treated with increased reverence, but also levels the playing field.
“At least now prospective companies will really walk around to find an agency that could best satisfy their requirements,” said Madam Sa’diah Saidi, sales manager at Aflah Employment Agency. She added that “Before, they would simply walk straight to those which guarantee low costs.”
Regarding migrant worker welfare groups, they said the agencies’ change of manners was an excellent indication, but also raised other issues.
For example, several agencies in both centres had maids doing household chores in mock living rooms observable from the outside, apparently for training functions. The women, while seated in and not outside the stores, still faced passersby.
Executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, Mr Jolovan Wham, said these practices, while not particularly mentioned in the MOM advisory, looked demeaning to maids.
“What type of training is this if a person is simply pushing the wheelchairs aimlessly?” he inquired.
The necessity to look beyond the surface for deeper change was noted by another migrant worker activist.
Mr William Chew, executive director of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training, said that they must also examine practices behind the scenes, whether maids are correctly integrated here or if they are given help when they run into difficulties with their employers.