family life · reviews · Singapore

Hiring a domestic helper in Singapore – Universal Employment Agency

In modern Singapore woman has options like never before – we are able to work full time, part time, or not at all, juggle the kids, meals, extended family, etc. We have the option to do it all! However often it seems like we are expected to do it all, even if we can’t. The rhetoric in most circles seems to be, you are less of a mother if you farm out some or all your motherly activities, and although mothers who can do it all deserve all the kudos they get, they certainly haven’t earned the right to say it with the smugness and disdain to other mothers.

Every time the Straits Times runs a news report on a topic related to hiring domestic helpers, you’ll see it in the comments – male chauvinists insisting that western mothers don’t need any assistance (please lor, there are nannies and au pairs all around the world, ignoramus), and the ones who will leave comments like “I have X number of kids and I never had a helper (smug tone)”. Well, ok fine, good for you.

During the period when I was struggling with managing the kids on my own (for 3 months earlier this year), my husband foolishly came home one day saying one of his classmates has two preschoolers, works full time and doesn’t have a helper. I hate such sweeping statements because it doesn’t really tell you anything. Yes, perhaps she does not have a live in helper but maybe she has help 2-3 times a week, two robot floor cleaners, the 2 kids are at the grandparents for 90% of their waking hours and all the family meals are there and even the household laundry is done for them, and maybe the husband actually does some housework? I gave my husband an earful that day, because while I’m no superwoman, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not good at multi-tasking a full time job and 3 kids and a household (so, thankfully I don’t have to!) it was ironic coming from someone who has been genetically wired to be unable to execute any domestic chore without making it seem like an Olympic achievement. That doesn’t include cooking, but usually he leaves our kitchen like it was struck by a high level typhoon and I now refuse to let him do any cooking if our helper is not around.

Ok rant over. We’ve had several helpers for the last 7 years and unfortunately even the good ones we’ve had have been unable to stay with us past their 2 year contract. From my experience, I would like to share a few of my thoughts on having a helper below.

It’s not forever. And doesn’t mean you fail as a mother.
Hiring a helper might be a much needed relief when the children are young, and it does not mean that you will need one for the rest of your life. Sure there might be less “privacy”, but every circumstance has it’s give and take. And for those who love to be smug about not having helpers, well, it is quite an achievement, and certainly you can be proud of yourself, but putting down others for not being so capable in this respect is quite unnecessary.

They’re humans too.
I’m pretty easy when it comes to days off and handphones. I’m at home most of the day, and I think it’s good that they have some respite in the evenings and their off days to mix with friends. I will provide them with WI-FI, because it really doesn’t cost us anything, but will mean a lot to them. Sometimes I even mute chats if they’re getting too busy because I feel embarrassed to have my phone going off all the time. One agency I went to had strict handphone regulations and would not allow the girls to have phones for the first 6 months of their contract. I find that this often doesn’t work or even backfired into them spending more time on their phone after the 6 months. Sometimes I even feel embarrassed about buying new clothes! But I do pass on our old things to her for herself and her family.

Make sure you can afford it.
As for off days, I’m not calculative about the pay if they do take an off day or need an extra day. I’ve heard some employers calculate the off day salary down to the cent which I find completely ridiculous! We’re talking about values which could be something like $25.35 a day?? If you can’t afford or are unwilling to pay someone $25 a day, please reconsider hiring a helper.

My current helper is in the process of renewing her passport. Just today she was at the Philippines Embassy and she heard from some of the other girls there that they had to sell off some items because they had to renew their passport because their employers were not helping them with the cost (it can cost around $200 for renewal). As an employee, how would you want your boss to treat you?

Know your priorities.
My priority is the children, so I am willing to close one eye if the cleaning is not up to par if the children are well taken care of. If I have to be away during the day for work, I will remind her that she can do the housework later or another day. We eat at home often so I always hire a helper who likes to cook.

It is quite difficult for even us parents to be masters at everything, so I think it is unreasonable to expect our helpers to be perfect too. Don’t be a micromanager. Everyone has their own way of doing things and I will try to leave as much of it to the helper as possible. Once in a while when “someone” comes along to nag, I will just truthfully tell the helper, “Please do it like this, otherwise I will get an earful from “someone”. You know lah, sometimes the older people like to have things done their way“ and we’ll both laugh and she understands where I’m coming from.

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Over the years, I’ve also had my fair share of agents. These days I prefer transfer helpers because I don’t like to have to worry about girls who are new to Singapore, learning to adapt to life here. If they’ve already lived here they’ll know how to get around and be used to life here, and for example I won’t have to guide them step by step on how to buy something from the market or supermarket. I also like that we are able to meet them in person, and they have the chance to see us and our family, and decide for themselves whether they want to work with us.

Thankfully this year, I was recommended to Universal Employment Agency. They approached XavvyLicious to see if she might need a helper but she did not, and passed the contact on to me. I have previously used another agency twice who really didn’t do much and had a “ai mai sua” (take it or leave it) kind of attitude so I thought there would be no harm in trying out another agency.

Universal Employment Agency was started in 1986 and handle mostly transfer helpers although they have new ones too. I found them very friendly and approachable as well as professional. I learnt a lot while I was there. I interviewed one helper who said she wanted to change because her employer did not trust her. Every time she wanted to go out on her off day, the employer would give her a physical pat down and make her empty her bag so that they could check whether she had stolen anything! And then I selected one helper, who had returned to Indonesia for a break, but when she came back here she was not able to pass her medical examination. From this incident I was impressed by how the agency treated their girls and genuinely seemed to care for them. Thank goodness I found Universal!!

My helper has been with us for 8 months now, and she’s been the best one we’ve ever had – in terms of work as well as compatibility with me. She has plenty of initiative, her cooking is decent, and her work is thorough. We really are so blessed to have her. As she’s in her mid thirties, she’s already indicated that she will only be able to work until the end of her contract, and I will be so sad to see her go! But I am also very happy for her that she will be going home to start a family. In a way I’m glad she doesn’t look at my kids and gets turned off having children ha ha. When she leaves, I will definitely go back to Universal!

As my kids are older now, I wouldn’t say having a helper is a necessity, but it is a huge relief to have a good helper. Not only does it free up my time to concentrate on my work, it also ensures my sanity! A good helper is like a trusty aide and support, like a good team member. A not so reliable helper might mean more worries, and it can also sometimes feel like you have to look after her, as if there aren’t enough people to look after in the family right?

Of course that’s just my story. I also recommended Universal to my sister, and let’s just say my mum and my sister are really struggling…..to keep their weight down because the new helper is just amazing at cooking Indonesian food. And she is always happy to cook for us when we go over for meals, and of course we are happy to go and eat her cooking too! My sister has also recommended several other people to Universal, about 4 or 5 families and so far they’ve been pretty happy too!

I asked the helpers how they got to know if Universal and they said that they were recommended by their friends too, so I guess the helpers themselves had good experiences with Universal.

If you do decide to go to Universal, do let them know that you read about them on the MummyEd Blog, and both you and I will receive a rebate. If you don’t want to mention the blog, that’s fine too, I’m just happy to share good things!!

Universal Employment Agency Pte Ltd
T. +65 6435 7377
A. 304 Orchard Road #03-52 Lucky Plaza Singapore 238863
W. www.universal.sg
Mon to Fri : 10am to 7pmSat & Sun : 10am to 5pm
Closed on every Tuesday

Disclaimer: I received a small discount on the services fees rendered by Universal, but all opinions and the entire experience is 100% my own.I had a very good experience with them, but I do think that I am a generally easy going person, thankful to have some help, and am a reasonable employer.

One thought on “Hiring a domestic helper in Singapore – Universal Employment Agency

  1. Totally agree with you. A good helper is a trusty aide and support! And I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a helper at home to help out in the house and the kids. Like you, I’m not good at multi-tasking. Having my helper let me concentrate on what is more important.

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