Singapore Employment Agency Fees for Foreign Domestic Workers and Employers
There are close to 700 maid employment agencies in Singapore that place full-time foreign domestic workers (FDW) with families. In many cases, employers approach a maid agency to assist in matching them with a domestic worker and then handling the work permit application that follows. However, a growing trend is for employers to undertake direct hires – thereby saving costs for themselves and their maids.
What should I know about maid agencies?
In Singapore, employment agencies must be accredited by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The employment agency must apply for a licence in order to operate in Singapore. Wholly web-based job portals like HelperChoice are exempted from the need to obtain an employment agency licence in Singapore. When issued a licence, employers can check the performance of an employment agency on the ministry’s website.
A maid agency in Singapore which breaches any of its conditions will be issued demerit points. An agency with 12 or more points will be put under surveillance for at least 12 months. If an agency has less than 12 points, its points will be deleted after 12 months. In the case of serious offences such as the abuse of maids or illegal placements, their licence will be revoked instantly.
Why are there differences in maid agency fees for employers?
When you are looking to use a maid agency for paperwork processing, you will realise that they charge different fees. There is no fixed price as the market is free and unrestricted. That said, sometimes maid agencies’ fees can be ‘too good to be true’. It usually costs around S$800 to S$1,400 to place a maid and process work permit and papers in Singapore.
If a maid agency advertises an agency fee that is below $100 or even free, you should be aware that the agency will need to make up for this somehow. If you find a particularly cheap package, find out how much the agency is charging the maid, and keep in mind that high placement fees can force domestic workers into debt.
How much can maid agencies charge FDWs?
Maid agencies in Singapore are only allowed to charge foreign domestic workers one month’s salary for each year of work as per the work permit, for a maximum of two years (i.e., a maximum of two months’ salary). This fee cap includes any fees that were transferred by the agency used in the domestic worker’s home country.
If the employer terminates the employment contract, the agency must refund part of the paid fees. In the case of a visa renewal, the domestic worker should not have to pay any fees because there is no actual “placement”. The same goes when you hire a domestic worker directly.
Bear in mind that a maid who has to work for months without an income may not be highly motivated. She has probably moved to Singapore so that she can provide for her family, and she may very well be anxious that she is not able to do that – especially when her family back home expects her to send money regularly. Particularly when maid agencies charge high fees, a direct hire is the option that is most fair on domestic workers.
Passing agency fees onto your FDW
Unfortunately, not all agencies follow the regulations in Singapore. Some overcharge maids, and in some cases they ask the employer to pay first and later deduct the fees from their maids’ salaries. In some cases, domestic workers are charged fees totalling more than S$3,000! This is an incredible amount, especially considering that the salary these women earn is usually around S$600 a month. In addition, when an agency requests that an employer pass fees on to their domestic helper, they are asking the employer to do something that is illegal.
Must not keep FDW’s money
From 1 January 2019, as an FDW employer, you must not keep your FDW’s salary or any other money belonging to her, even if she requests for it. FDWs are adviced to open a bank account in Singapore. Employers should not keep their maid's bank book or bank card on her behalf.
Employers in Singapore are also responsible for covering costs such as their maid’s medical examinations. Also note that when applying for home leave for your maid or her work permit renewal, you can avoid agencies altogether and do it yourself.