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Hiring a domestic helper? Your step-by-step guide





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Good relationships take time and attention. And when you are hiring a domestic helper for the first time, you are committing to a relationship that can last for many years. While the advantages of having full-time support with your home and family are numerous, hiring a domestic helper is a significant decision.

Here is your step-by-step guide to getting it right first time.

Before you start

  • Make sure you understand, and are prepared for, the financial implications and legal responsibilities that come with employing a Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW).
  • Talk as a family about the idea of living with a new person in the house. Discuss ground rules for both family members and the helper early to avoid complications later.
  • Plan to set aside time, especially if your FDW is new to Singapore, to train and help her assimilate into your family, culture and routines. Even if your domestic helper has previously worked in Singapore, every household has different ways of doing things. 

Step One: Finding the right Employment Agency (EA)

You can employ an FDW without going through an employment agency (EA). But if you are hiring for the first time, the right EA can be immensely helpful in finding the right fit for your family’s needs. A good EA can also assist with the procedures, processing paperwork and negotiating employment terms that are fair for both parties. In short, making sure that you have the best chance of long-term success.

  • Check that any EA you are considering holds a valid licence with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).  This information can be found on the MOM website.
  • In addition, all EA personnel should be able to produce a registration card with their photo and registration number.
  • Choose an EA that has your own and the helper’s (rather than their own) best interests at heart. Compare the performance of EAs in Singapore using the Employment Agencies and Personnel Search E-Service page on the MOM website. You should check:

    Agency Demerit points - given to EAs who break the applicable rules.

    FDW Retention rate - the percentage of FDWs placed by the EA who have stayed with the same employer for at least one year.

    FDW Transfer rate - the percentage of FDWs placed by the EA who have, transferred to 3 or more employers within one year.

    FW Placement Volume – the number of foreign worker workpasses approved for the EA in 1 year.

    Customer service ratings – the customer service ratings on the EA received from FDW employers.

  • Understand the EA fee structure. If you’ve found an EA willing to place an FDW with you for a “bargain” placement fee, examine the possibility that the EA is shifting the fee burden to the helper.  Whilst difficult to confirm, one of the ways to do so is to understand the salary deduction schedule the EA is placing on the FDW.  At present, the Employment Agencies Act stipulates that EAs are allowed to collect no more than one month of the FDW’s salary for each year of service, capped at 2 month’s salary.

Step Two: The interview process

It may feel daunting to decide whether someone should be hired and come to live with your family after a brief interview. Some tips for the interview process include:

  • Ascertain whether this is someone you and your family could communicate with sufficiently.
  • Learn more about the helper’s background, family situation, and why they are seeking (new) employment.
  • If one of the main tasks is taking care of your baby or child(ren), consider seeing how your prospective helper interacts with them.
  • Outline your daily / weekly schedule and check whether the candidate has similar experience, or the capability or willingness to undertake these tasks.
  • Articulate hard and fast do’s or don’ts to check if there are any potential issues upfront.

Step Three: Agreeing to Terms and Conditions

It is important that you fully understand the terms and conditions of the EA service agreement with your new helper before you commit. According to MOM, the service agreement should contain the following information:

The validity period of the service agreement.

Breakdown of costs involved in hiring through your EA.

Any circumstances under which you will be eligible for fee refunds and the relevant time-frame.

Circumstances under which you will be eligible for a replacement FDW, including the number of replacement FDWs you are entitled to, the relevant time-frame(s), and the recourse available to you should your EA fail to provide a replacement.

Avenues available for dispute resolution.

Step Four: Preparing for your FDW’s arrival

Other than organising a Work Permit, insurance, and attendance in the Settling-in-Programme (if required) and medical examination (if required) for your FDW, either yourself or through an EA, you also need to take certain steps to prepare for your helper's arrival:

  • Your FDW will need time to adjust to your culture and pace of life. She may be unfamiliar with the food you prefer, or the use of certain electrical appliances. Some FDWs experience homesickness. Invest time in getting to know your helper better, and encourage her to feel part of your family. Even learning a few phrases in her language can be helpful.

    “There are a lot of adjustments FDWs have to make. Employers only have to adjust to one FDW, but the FDW has to adjust to everyone in the family” Dr Daniel Kwek, Senior Consultant of Psychiatry at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital

  • Agree a weekly or daily schedule for your FDW, especially early in her employment. Give clear instructions and agree timings. Encourage your helper to ask questions and practice patience! It is useful to have a regular meeting when you can both talk about what is working and any problems that need attention.
  • Set clear house rules – you will need to agree important boundaries regarding privacy, working hours, rest days and holidays. Also, time to talk to her family and if she can bring friends home.
  • If cooking is expected, discuss any special dietary requirements including preferred recipes, ingredients and style of cooking.
  • If your FDW is required to look after a family member who needs extra help or medication, this should be highlighted to the EA when looking for candidates. Once hired, make sure your helper is clear on schedules and doses - you may want to use special pillboxes. Write everything down so it is easy to understand. Supply a list of emergency numbers plus important family contact numbers.

Want to know more?

The Ministry of Manpower offers a complete guide to everything you need for a successful working relationship with an FDW. Please refer to their website and the documents and publications on their website for further information.

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