Domestic helper who went into canal says: 'I did it for my elderly employer's sake'
A maid in the middle of a furore over cleaning a canal has spoken up for her employers, whom she says she treats as her parents.
The Filipina, who wanted to be known as Ms San, had been quoted earlier as saying she was told to clean the canal because she had "nothing to do" after completing her household chores.
On seeing online pictures of her in the canal, some netizens immediately assumed she had been treated badly.
Ms San wants concerned individuals to know that it was just a one-off task, which she had volunteered for. She said she is well-treated, gets a day off on Sundays and has plenty of welfare from her employers.
Evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported on Sunday that a resident had spotted the helper at the 3m-deep, 4m-wide canal at Colchester Grove, near Lorong Chuan, armed with a trowel to remove leaves.
The paper also reported another resident saying that the maid was also seen at a nearby park with a bucket of water and a cloth, cleaning leaves.
Ms San, 26, laughed when she was shown a printout of the photo.
She told The New Paper: "It was just one time. Sir (her employer) was trying to clean the canal, and I asked to do it instead. Sir is so old already."
Ms San said that she was not cleaning the leaves but removing stagnant water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
She emphasised that her employer, 67, and his wife, 58, are "very nice people" who treat her well.
She said they take her out to restaurants and give her freedom to watch TV, as long as she finishes her work. "I don't have any family here, so they are like my parents. I want to keep working for them," she says.
So Ms San was shocked when she saw the photo taken by the resident online and in the news.
She was incredulous that people could pin the blame on her employer.
"I think the resident who took the photo was concerned for my safety. I would like to say to him or her, don't worry, I'm okay."
TNP first spoke to Ms San alone yesterday afternoon and then interviewed her employer separately in their terrace home in the evening.
Both said they shared a relationship built out of respect for each other and had the same story to tell about what happened in the picture.
While her employer was not pictured, both said he stood close by while she removed the leaf build-up from the canal.
"I wanted to do it but she volunteered," said the employer.
"I even held her hand as she climbed into the canal so she wouldn't fall. I didn't think that it was not allowed."
On Tuesday, Ms San was at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Services Centre at Bendemeer Road to clarify what happened to MOM officers.
Said Ms San: "I told them that it was no big deal. It's just that they (her employers) like their home and surroundings to be clean. "
Even then, her employer might be breaking the law. (See report at right.)
Said Ms San's employer: "I allowed her to clear the leaves in the canal in the spur of the moment, without thinking.
"I would be very sorry for her if she were to lose her job because of me."
It was just one time. Sir (her employer) was trying to clean the canal, and I asked to do it instead. Sir is so old already.
- The maid, who wanted to be known only as Ms San
MAID AGENCIES SAY...
Orange Employment Agency owner Shirley Ng said it is not within a maid's job scope to clean outside the employer's property but admitted that it could be a grey area.
"For instance, leaves from a tree in the employer's property could drop and clog a drain outside the house."
Nation Employment owner Gary Chin felt that the employer's request is against the work permit regulations.
"The helper's working area should be within the house and all work shouldn't jeopardise her safety or tire her out," he said.Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of migrant workers group Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics, thinks that most maids do not dare to voice their unhappiness.
"If they report their employers, they might lose their jobs and get sent back," he said.
"They are also not sure if they would be allowed to switch employers after their case is investigated."
Mr Wham would usually advise helpers to reject dangerous requests rather than put their lives at risk.
An MOM spokesman said it is investigating the reported case.
She said: "Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, foreign domestic workers (FDWs) are allowed to work only for their employers at the addresses stated on their Work Permits. The employer also has to ensure that the FDW performs only household and domestic duties.
"Employers who deploy their FDWs illegally may face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment. Such employers may also be banned from employing FDWs."
Many netizens, including domestic helpers, expressed outrage at seeing the picture of the maid in a canal.
Netizen Belinda Tan wrote: "This is ridiculous. Not to mention dangerous and probably illegal.
"Call National Environment Agency or Public Utilities Board, not your maid!"
- LInette Heng