How much are expats paying their domestic helpers as compared to locals? Should you be giving bonuses for good performance? And how much?
The cost of hiring a helper
Singapore doesn’t impose a minimum monthly salary for helpers, as this is mandated by the helper’s country of origin (both Indonesia and the Philippines require a $550 minimum). (View the average salaries here.)
Also, consider these typical monthly expenses: Ministry of Manpower levy, $265; bond and insurance, $350; toiletries and food, $200; plus miscellaneous expenses like an EZ-Link card, mobile phone bill and medical costs. The real average cost of a helper each month? $1,200 and up.
Giving your helper a raise
You’re thinking of rewarding your helper with a raise, but you’re not sure where to start.
According to Eddy Lam, Managing Director of 121 Personnel Services, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) lets employers and helpers decide on pay raises, but recommends increments based on the helper’s performance for the previous two years of service.
“A good rule of thumb would be 5 to 10 percent upon renewal of the contract,” he says.
Some expat employers prefer to do an annual review instead. Aussie mum of three Susanne says she has a discussion with her helper each year. “It’s an opportunity to give feedback, both for us and for her.”
What’s too much?
It may be tempting to offer your helper a large raise, but consider the market rate before doing so.
Susanne says, “Some of my Singaporean colleagues feel that expats give pay raises and bonuses too freely, making it more expensive for Singaporeans to keep helpers, as the perception is that expats pay better.”
However, Eddy counters: “If the helper is good and the employer can afford a higher salary, it’s a boon for everybody.”
What about bonuses?
Some employers give bonuses throughout the year or a hongbao (red packet) during Chinese New Year but some expats prefer to skip this tradition. “Neither we nor our helper are Chinese, so we give her a bonus at Christmas and a smaller one on her birthday instead,” explains Kate, a Canadian mother of one.
Investing in your helper
Try these classes:
1. Nutritious and Delicious teaches helpers menu planning, fermentation techniques as well as how to make soups, salads, breakfasts and more. Six classes are $450, while a single class is $85. Or, go with Expat Kitchen, which has been instructing helpers on healthy, tasty cooking for a decade. Classes start at $165.
2. Mother and Child has a basic course ($250) that teaches emergency techniques, kitchen hygiene plus CPR for babies and children. Singapore Red Cross’s first aid course ($120) covers CPR, wound bandaging, immobilisation steps for fractures and how to handle poisonings, bites, stings and burns. The Foreign Domestic Work Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) offers infant and elderly care and more.
3. Try Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME) for classes on computer literacy, sewing and cosmetology. Aidha’s course (from $400) can equip her with financial, computer and leadership skills.
Hiring more helpers
MOM will consider applications for second helpers for families that have two or more children under 18, or a parent over 60 in the same household.
But, be warned: Jealousy and conflict between both helpers may arise over work assignments, pay and accommodation.
While it’s common and acceptable under MOM regulations for two helpers to share a room, giving each helper personal space can help smoothen their working relationship. “Our new condo has a maid’s room and a separate bomb shelter, whereas previously they had to share a room. I think having their own space to retreat to has helped their relationship,” shares Peta, a British expat and mum of four.
Some employers assume that hiring helpers who are friends or relatives is the key. Eddy cautions that this is not necessarily foolproof. He has seen a mother-daughter team work well together, while two friends end up with a broken relationship.
If you’re adding a “junior” helper, make it clear that she will need to take instructions from a senior helper. Make roles clear from the outset and keep the workloads fair to foster a harmonious household.
By Karola Clark, The Finder (Issue 280), March 2017
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