Our first Sunday in Singapore we were curious about the large number of women gathered in small groups, many of them having picnics in the big open spaces around us. We also noticed many of them lined up at money transfer windows.
The photo above is of a park right next to where we are staying; the photo below is of a park right across the street from us. The same scene can be found at numerous parks and plazas throughout Singapore every Sunday.
At first, I didn’t know what was going on, but my son mentioned that Sundays are a day off for maids in Singapore, and this is apparently how many of them spend that precious day. It is a chance for them to relax with people from their own country, as well as to send money back home to their families.
Currently, there are over 250,000 maids in Singapore, who are also often referred to as foreign domestic workers. Today, every fifth Singaporean household hires a maid. In 1990, the ratio was about one in 13, with about 50,000 maids employed at that time. The workers come from a variety of countries, and it seems as if each nationality has its special place to gather on Sundays. Lucky Plaza seems to be the place for Filipinos, while City Plaza attracts Indonesians.
It wasn’t until 2013 that a law was passed mandating that maids get one day off per week; prior to that, it was one day off per month. Some maids may exchange their day off for another day of paid work.
The average salary for a maid is about $518 per month, and they work 14-16 hour days, six days per week. You can do the math.
The life of a maid seems like it is a difficult and stressful one, so Sundays are a special, and most welcome day, for all of them. It is time for them to reconnect with their friends, relatives, and fellow countrymen. It is a testament to the power of community.
As one woman put it: “A comfortable place that we can hang out at after we send money home and buy our own food. It is easy to meet all the Filipinos here and have a small party here. We don’t need to do anything, just sit and talk and de-stress.”