The following letter is published in the Straits Times on 18 Feb 2012.
LAST month, my siblings and I hired a Filipino maid to look after our elderly mother but after less than a month, she fell ill. The doctor discovered that she was suffering from severe diabetes and directed us to admit her to the accident and emergency department of a hospital, or let her rest at home.
The maid agency shrugged off responsibility, saying diabetes was not included in the mandatory pre-employment medical examination for maids. While an employer must bear the medical costs when a maid falls ill, mine had the condition before she began to work for us. Shouldn't an agency ensure that a maid comes to an employer healthy and able to work?
The agency then told me that the maid must bear the cost of her illness, and now the maid wants to go home, which is a pity as she is hard-working and responsible and cared for my mother well.
Apart from the worry over the absence of a caregiver while we wait for a new maid, why must we pay the maid levy while waiting for her repatriation? Can't the levy be waived and an employer exempted from being blacklisted in such cases?
Who is responsible for the medical costs and shouldn't diabetes be included in the pre-employment medical examination?
Lydia Wong (Madam)
According to MOM :
"The medical examination screens the FDW for four types of infectious diseases (Tuberculosis, HIV, Syphilis and Malaria) that are of public health concern. It also serves to check that the FDW is generally fit to work at the point of examination. However, even if the FDW passes the medical examination, it does not mean that she is free from all illnesses. Employers with specific concerns may wish to send the FDW for other tests as they deem appropriate." (Source)
Employers should be aware that many other serious illness like diabetes, Hepatitis, mental illness, etc are not included in the medical examination. My maid used to work for an employer who is a doctor. She told me that she had to take many extra tests, ordered by her ex-employer, before she could start work. The extra tests are expensive, but at least employers can have a peace of mind, especially if the maid is required to take care of babies and children.
On 24 Feb 2012, MOM replied to the letter as follows :
"MADAM Lydia Wong ("Maid's diabetes sparks cost concerns"; last Saturday) has cause for complaint, having hired a maid in good faith only to find that severe diabetes rendered her unable to work after less than a month.
When a worker is incapacitated, it makes sense that an employer should not have to pay the levy. Madam Wong's comment that an agency should ensure that a maid is healthy enough to work before she is placed is fair.
The agency may well have done the legal minimum, but decent service means going further, and making sure that reasonable customer requirements are met; one of which is to ensure that a maid can do the job. However, there are reasons why it might be problematic to treat diabetes as one of the conditions to be checked in the pre-employment medical examination.
Most diabetics cope well. Their condition is a personal nuisance but does not interfere with their work. It would be unfair if this relatively common condition is ruled as an obstacle to employment.
In the case of Madam Wong's maid, it would seem that it was the severity of her diabetes that was the problem. "