Commentary: Can new part-time cleaning services replace Singapore’s need for live-in migrant domestic workers?

With the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore)’s new pilot to bring in more workers safely, employers will have to budget another S$1,500 to S$2,000 for additional isolation and testing in MDWs’ home countries.

Employers looking at transfer helpers to avoid the costs of hiring from overseas will find themselves in a similarly tight situation, due to the limited supply and strong demand for transfer workers.

Households may alleviate their load by parceling out specific ad-hoc services to HSS companies with a ready pool of workers already in Singapore, instead of navigating these hurdles to hire full-time live-in help.

This is also an attractive alternative for those hesitant about the perceived intrusiveness of having a non-family member living under the same roof.


MDWs will also be watching closely if they are eligible to stay in Singapore and join HSS companies after their contracts end.

High-profile news of abuse at the hands of employers, notably Parti Liyani and Piang Ngaih Don, have spooked the community despite more measures to detect abuse and support MDWs’ well-being. Prospective workers may also think twice about taking on MDW jobs and potentially putting themselves in vulnerable positions, further limiting the manpower supply.

The HSS model addresses some of these pressing concerns by changing living arrangements of workers and spatially separating time at work and outside work.

Workers live outside the homes of people who need their services, in accommodation provided by their companies. It takes away the closed home environment where overwork and abuse can be harder to detect, two common grievances reported by the Humanitarian Organisation of Migration Economics (HOME).

Another stark difference is that workers under HSS companies are protected under the Employment Act, which mandates maximum working hours, overtime pay, and certain leave entitlements, compared to the ambiguous language in regulations that govern MDWs.

The defined scope of HSS services can also help address informal excesses, such as deploying the MDWs outside of the employer’s home.

Domestic workers will likely be keen to re-balance the relationship as one between a provider and a consumer of valued services, instead of perceived ownership. In the long run, stronger protections and reduced vulnerability may increase the attractiveness of live-out domestic work as an employment prospect.

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