Given that I’d be returning to the workforce after maternity leave, one of the items that we had on our post-delivery checklist was to secure a domestic helper to assist us with looking after Ruth whilst we’re busy at work during the day. With COVID-19, this only served to complicate things further as there were little transfer domestic helpers available for hire in Singapore and if we were to opt to hire a new domestic helper, this would be accompanied by additional costs such as fees for the now mandatory Stay-home Notice (“SHN”) and COVID-19 swab test (a total of S$1,700) and of course, the delay in commencement of work.
And as I grew up without a domestic helper, I had absolutely zero clues about the hiring process as well as the reputation of the domestic helper agencies in Singapore. If you’re like me or are interested in having a look at whether the hiring process for domestic helpers has changed during this COVID-19 pandemic, read on to find out what it was/is like to hire a domestic helper during COVID-19.
Before we began our search, we were of the common consensus that we wanted to only hire a helper who had similar religious views as us, especially since she would be spending quite a fair bit of time caring for Ruth at home. We also thought that it would be best to look out for a domestic helper who had experience looking after infants and/or toddlers, was not scared of animals, did not have young children and a reasonable command of English. After sharing our concerns with an ex-colleague of mine, she referred me to Eden Grace Maid Agency, who prides themselves as one of the top Christian maid agencies in Singapore.
EDIT: We eventually terminated our engagement with Eden Grace Maid Agency as we were not confident that our helper would be able to enter Singapore as soon as we’d like, especially in view of her failed TESDA test. We were also slightly disappointed by the slow updates from the agency and lack of visibility of the timelines post-TESDA test until probed. We have since secured a transfer helper from Universal Employment Agency instead and she will be joining us on 30 December 2020.
Within a few hours of reaching out to Eden Grace Maid Agency via a WhatsApp message, a sales representative, Alice Lee, sent me a message to speak about our requirements within the day; highly efficient, right? After speaking to Alice briefly, she then set up a WhatsApp group chat with her team for the purposes of ensuring that information is delivered and procured efficiently. Alice then forwarded me a copy of the pricing package for our reference.
As we’re looking to have some time to spend with our domestic helper (to ease her into our preferences and daily schedule), we had hoped (and are still hoping) that she would be able to arrive in Singapore by December. However, Alice and her team gave the caveat that although our domestic helper would reach Singapore within 6 to 8 weeks of receipt of the Ministry of Manpower’s In-Principle Approval (“IPA”) and the release of Job Order (“JO”) from the Republic of the Philippines government, this may be delayed even further due to reasons such as bad weather, flight disruption, civil unrest and other unforeseen circumstances. And now, throw COVID-19 into the mix; we only stand to gain further delay to our helper’s arrival in this pandemic.
If this is your first time applying for a domestic helper, please also ensure that you’ve completed the Employers’ Orientation Programme (S$35) and forward a copy of the certificate of completion to your agency. This is a necessary step to kick start the entire process of hiring a domestic helper. Of course, you could also choose to delay the course until you’ve selected a domestic helper. But why delay things then when you have the opportunity to sort this issue out now? For those who are hiring a domestic helper for a subsequent time, this step is not necessary for you.
Alice worked so fast. By the next day, she forwarded us 4 different profiles for our consideration, from which we opted to interview 2 candidates. The profiles were thorough and some of them even featured video recordings of the domestic helper i.e. you’d be able to figure out whether they genuinely have a good command of English, or whether they were being prompted and/or reading from a script or had their script memorised.
Though we only indicated our preferred candidates the following day, guess when were the interviews scheduled for? Within the same day. We were blown away by how fast things were moving and thankfully when we spoke to one of the ladies the following day, we decided to proceed with our engagement of her as our domestic worker. If you’re currently waiting for interviews with your domestic helper and are just as confused as we were about the questions that we should be asking these candidates, you may refer to this helpful article from Supper Mommy here for more ideas and inspiration. For us, we chose to ask some of the following questions which we hope would be useful for you too:
(a) Tell me more about yourself and your family.
(b) Why do you want to come to Singapore to work?
(c) Why did you decide to leave <previous country of employment> to return to the Philippines and why would you prefer to work in Singapore as compared to <previous country of employment>?
(d) What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What are your hobbies?
(e) Do you have any friends who are working in Singapore?
(f) What kind of cuisines can you cook? Which Philippino dish are you confident of cooking?
(g) Do you have experience looking after babies? What kind of tasks are you familiar with?
(h) Are you comfortable with dogs and would you be agreeable to caring for the dog?
(i) When you leave the Philippines, who will be looking after your children?
(j) If you were alone at home with the baby and the baby is injured, what would you do?
(k) Would you be happy to sing and dance for the baby?
After we sorted out the documents mentioned below (and with payment of the necessary deposit), our agency proceeded to apply for a MOM work permit and IPA for our helper. We also had to deliberate and select the type of insurance coverage we wanted to get for our domestic helper, as some insurance policies provided a more extensive COVID-19 coverage than others. We were also invited to attend the Employer’s Orientation briefing so that we would be more prepared to welcome our domestic helper into our family.
Following the above (and after clearing her medical assessment), our domestic helper is due to attend an assessment (a household test) in the Philippines which is applicable for helpers who have not worked abroad before. Once the assessment is complete, our agency would be processing her membership with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and thereafter apply for an Overseas Employment Certificate for her. Then, our domestic helper would be ready for departure and will serve her SHN (accompanied by the COVID-19 swab test) upon her arrival in Singapore. If the COVID-19 swab test is clear, then we’re ready for our domestic helper to join our family.
PREPARING YOUR DOCUMENTS
What would help speed up the process significantly would be to have your documents ready at hand. For starters, you’ll be expected to forward copies of the NRICs of all members of the household as well as a copy of your child’s birth certificate (if any). You’ll also be required to fill up a few forms (such as your family’s particulars form) and to sign various contracts.
Without going too much into the specific sums, do be prepared that you’ll have to pay the following fees when engaging a domestic helper:
(a) The Agency’s service fee;
(b) Any fees incurred in relation to an IPA application filed with MOM, e-Issue, medical, transport etc.;
(c) Insurance plan for your domestic helper which would provide for MOM’s Letter of Guarantee of S$5,000 and the MOM Bond Protector of S$5,000;
(d) Any fees incurred in relation to the Philippines Embassy Contract;
(e) Any fees incurred in relation to documentation for and from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, fees for the Philippines Agency, your domestic helper’s Visa and her 1-way air ticket;
(f) Your domestic helper’s loan; and
(g) Stay-home Notice of S$1,500 and COVID-19 swab test of S$200.
At this point of time, we’re not quite sure when we can expect our domestic helper to join us due to the uncertainty created by COVID-19 and the typhoon in the Philippines. As such, if you’re looking to hire a domestic helper in the coming year, do start your search early to cater sufficient time for unforseen delays.
We hope that the guide above has provided you with some insight about what the hiring process for a domestic helper is like in Singapore. If you have any other questions about our experience, feel free to reach out too; we’d love to hear from you!