Filipina maid says: 'My employer is like a sister to me'
Domestic worker of 28 years counts herself lucky
She has been working for the same family as a domestic helper for 28 years. Employer and helper are so close, they treat each other like sisters.
Ms Marny Coronado Pera, 58, left everything behind in the Philippines when she was 30, including her then one-year-old son, to work here.
Despite the initial difficulty, she says, with a smile: "I have been so lucky to have been employed."
In a span of one year, her employer, retired teacher Yap Sock Hoe, 65, facilitated Ms Pera's return to her home town of Iloilo in the Philippines three times to be with her family in their time of need.
In September 1995, Ms Pera's mother suffered a stroke and fell ill. Without hesitation, Madam Yap told her to go back home.
"There was no question about it, she had to go back and be with her family," says Madam Yap.
When Ms Pera's brother was married in June 1996, Madam Yap again told her helper to be with her family, even paying for the flights.
"My madam told me to go home, because seeing the whole family back together would make my mother happy and get better," Ms Pera says.
Unfortunately, her mother's health did not improve, and she died that August. Upon hearing the news, Madam Yap gave her money not just to return home but also to help out with the funeral arrangements.
But it is not the financial help that Ms Pera is most thankful for.
Ms Pera with Madam Yap and her two sons and baby daughter in 1988.
She and Madam Yap treat each other with a lot of respect.
"She is like a sister to me. She took care of my three children and takes care of me, so of course, I have to take care of her too," says Madam Yap, who has two married sons and a daughter in her 20s.
Madam Yap doesn't think it is a big deal that she goes beyond her responsibilities as an employer to support Ms Pera.
In 2008, for instance, Madam Yap helped Ms Pera's son, Tommy, then 21, to find a job as a therapist in Singapore.
She paid for his plane ticket here and found him a temporary place to stay - with her son, who lives nearby.
Madam Yap continued supporting Tommy as he made a living here for the next seven years.
When she heard that Tommy wanted to get married last year but did not have the means, Madam Yap took it upon herself to give them a ceremony.
She booked the function room of her condominium in Serangoon, decorated it herself and catered food for the event. The whole event cost her more than $1,000.
Blinking back tears as she happily showed pictures and recounted the celebration, Ms Pera says: "It was such a happy occasion. So many of our loved ones were there, I will never forget how happy it made me feel."
NOT JUST AN EMPLOYER
It is not just Ms Pera's son that Madam Yap has supported.
Rather, Ms Pera says: "It is in the small things.
"When I first arrived, everyone was so kind to me, they were all so patient in teaching me how to clean and cook."
To this, Madam Yap adds: "She now cooks better than me. Her chicken curry and chilli crab are delicious."
All the kindness she has received compelled Ms Pera to nominate Madam Yap for an annual award for employers, given by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) and the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore).
On Dec 6, Madam Yap received the top honour, the Foreign Domestic Worker Employer of the Year award.
The award took Madam Yap by surprise.
She says: "I really don't think I am doing anything special. She does so much every day, and I have to return the favour."
Ms Pera says that most of her domestic helper friends are happy with their lives here in Singapore, but they all agree that she has been extra lucky to be employed by Madam Yap.
According to her contract, Ms Pera can continue working for Madam Yap only till she is 60, which will be in two years' time.
When asked what she would do after that, Ms Pera said that Madam Yap has given her financial help to purchase a plot of land, which her family will use to build a house.
Currently, her family members are scattered in the homes of different relatives.
"I also plan to fix an air-conditioner in only one room, that will be where madam will stay when she goes to visit," says Ms Pera as she laughs.
She adds, while flashing a smile to her employer-turned-friend: "Even if it is the end of my contract, I hope our story will not end."
Past maid abuse cases
SLAPPED AND ELBOWED
He hit his maid on the head with a plastic showerhead, breaking her finger as she shielded herself.
After a seven-day trial earlier this month, businessman Lin Sin Jye, 40, was sentenced to eight months' jail on Dec 3.
He was found guilty of grievously hurting Indonesian Siti Nurbayah, then 24, at his Beauty World Plaza apartment in Upper Bukit Timah Road in August 2012.
His wife, Malaysian Ngoa Choi Yin, slapped, beat and elbowed the maid on eight occasions.
Madam Ngoa, now 49, was given 12 weeks' jail more than a year ago after being found guilty of five maid abuse charges and cleared of three.
Lin could have been jailed for up to 15 years and liable to a fine or caning for causing grievous hurt to the domestic worker as her employer.
HIT WITH BOTTLE
She was upset with her maid for not preparing a beverage for her two daughters, then aged five and three.
That was enough for Ng Bee Lan, 43, to hit Filipino Jinky Berondo Cueva, then 32, with a lightweight aluminium water bottle, causing her forehead to bleed.
The incident - which happened in August 2012 - saw Ng sentenced to nine months' mandatory treatment order on Aug 25 this year.
Ms Cueva had worked for Ng for five months.
She faced five maid abuse charges and admitted to three counts of hurting Ms Cueva at her home in Aston Mansion in Geylang in 2012.
BURNT WITH LADLE
She wasn't happy with the curry her maid had cooked, so she heated an 18cm-long ladle until it was red-hot and swept it over her left calf and back.
Later, the maid was told to wear long pants to cover up the injury.
The court heard that Suganthi Jayaraman, 34, scalded her 24-year-old maid, Myanmar national Naw Mu Den Paw, in the kitchen of her Woodlands flat on Sept 28, 2013.
In an earlier incident on Sept 20, Suganthi used a metal pestle to hit Ms Naw on the back of her head and near her right eyebrow. She was upset with Ms Naw for not frying vadais, an Indian snack, quickly enough.
Suganthi pleaded guilty to three charges of maid abuse and was ordered to pay $4,900 compensation to Ms Naw.
About the case
Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan (right), 40, fled her employers' home. She had lost 20kg and weighed only 29kg after allegedly being deprived of adequate food.
Lim Choon Hong and his wife, Chong Sui Foon, both 47, are on trial for starving Madam Gawidan, causing her drastic weight loss over 15 months.
If convicted of the offence, Lim and Chong can each be jailed up to a year and fined up to $10,000.
ABOUT THE LAW
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) requires both employers and employment agencies to ensure the well-being of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) or maids under their charge.
Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, such responsibilities include providing adequate food, rest, proper accommodation and safe working conditions.
Employers also need to pay for their maids' medical check-up every six months.
Employers may be prosecuted for failing to ensure the well-being of their maids and if convicted, may be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months. Such employers would also be permanently barred from hiring maids.
In 2012, MOM made it compulsory for employers to give their maids a weekly rest day for those whose work permits were issued or renewed from Jan 1, 2013.
Those who choose to work on a rest day have to be compensated with at least a day's wages.
In 2013, MOM decreased the number of maids a household can go through in a year.
Employers applying for a fifth worker within a year, and whose previous four were all employed less than three months each, have to be interviewed by MOM for approval to hire another maid.
Agencies are required to ensure the maids' well-being before they are deployed to the employers' homes and to report any breaches under the Act to MOM.
Agencies found to have failed their responsibilities under the Employment Agencies Act will be fined or may have their licences suspended or revoked.
An MOM spokesman told The New Paper on Sunday: "MOM takes every complaint that arises from the foreign domestic workers' well-being issues seriously and will not hesitate to bring errant employers to task. All first-time FDWs attend mandatory Settling-In Programme to learn about their employment rights and responsibilities as well as the avenues for help."
The spokesman said FDWs who need help for well-being issues can call the helpline at 1800 -339-5505.
Anyone with information on suspected offences involving FDWs can also write in to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 6438-5122.