SINGAPORE : Maids can expect more support and a wider range of training in 2013. The activities are being rolled out in tandem with policy changes that require foreign domestic workers to be given a mandatory weekly day off from 1 January 2013.

Employers of foreign domestic workers will be required to give them either one day off a week or pay them an extra day of salary in lieu.

The new law applies only to foreign domestic workers whose permits are issued or renewed after next January.

By 2015, all maids will be covered by the new legislation.

Employers who break the rules can be fined up to S$5,000 or jailed for six months.

Lia Purnama Sari is looking forward to additional days off next year.

She said: “I am very excited, I am very happy. So I can go for more activities. On my days off, I will be taking more courses in my school. I can go out with my friends. I will have a lot of time.”

The 23-year-old Indonesian plans to take up dress-making and Photoshop courses.

In the future, she hopes to start a clothes boutique and design publicity posters on her own.

Her employer is fully behind her on this.

Angeline Wong said: “I do not want her to just come, be a helper and that is it, do housework, do household chores, learn how to use a washing machine and an iron.

“I want her to be able to go home and be able to start a business, or rather, be able to work in a good work environment.”

The family has even worked out an arrangement to take care of the household chores when Lia has her day off.

Charities and non-profit organisations are gearing up for the expected increase in demand for courses for foreign domestic workers next year.

The Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Skills Training is increasing the number of training places it offers by four times.

The topics covered range from computer skills to culinary arts and elderly care.

Other organisations, such as the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI), are providing more targeted activities.

It has even surveyed some 250 of its students to better understand their needs.

Jeremy Khoo, executive director of ACMI, said: “Some of the things that came out was they wanted to have more content and more professional courses. Because of that, we are going to have a small medium and business enterprise course next year and a first-aid course.

“These are new courses they wanted to learn. We are also making our existing courses more professional. For example, for our beauty and make-up and hair-dressing courses, we are getting professional volunteers to come in and teach our students.”

The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore said it is ramping up capacity of the courses it offers next year, by some 20 to 30 per cent.

Currently, it holds computer literacy courses, cooking classes and hair-styling workshops.

This year, some 1,700 maids attended these courses.

The embassy is also encouraging the maids to take up long-distance courses from Indonesian open universities for self-improvement.

It is appreciative of the Singapore government for this policy change and hopes that employers will comply with the new regulation.

Shyamali Fernando, counsellor for employment and labour welfare with the Sri Lanka High Commission in Singapore, said that the commission runs awareness programmes to ensure that migrant workers, including foreign domestic workers, know about the rules and regulations of working in Singapore.

It also organises monthly visits to churches, temples and even homes, to meet workers who may need help or advice.

Some associations said it is also important for employers to provide guidance.

K Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), said: “They need to advise the girls about social problems. They must also highlight to them that going out means they need to spend extra money, on their meals, transportation…They have to guide them on how to manage these days off as far as their funds are concerned.

“On the other hand, they also need to teach them a bit of social responsibility…boyfriends, how they are going to manage these relationships. They should not be bringing back home, problems with their boyfriends, if they do have any.”

There are currently some 200,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

They come from countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. – CNA/ms