Agence France Presse

Singapore, January 5

First-time employers of foreign maids in Singapore will soon have to undergo government-run orientation courses to guide them on ways to be better bosses, a manpower ministry spokeswoman said today.

The courses will begin this year and are aimed at bridging the cultural divide between employers and their foreign domestic helpers, the spokeswoman said, confirming a report in the Streats newspaper.

The ministry said in a letter to Streats that it also hoped

to eradicate maid abuse by educating local employers on their responsibilties when they hire maids.

The working conditions of the 140,000 foreign maids in the affluent city-state, who come mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, have come under scrutiny amid reports of abuse and unsafe work practices.

The tabloid newspaper reported 99 Indonesian maids have died in Singapore since 1999, 52 in accidents and 25 from suicide. The manpower ministry said 22 employers were jailed for abusing their maids between January 2001 and June last year.

The Philippines embassy in Singapore has welcomed the orientation courses, which run for half a day.

"These courses would give new employers an awareness on how to treat their maids and make them more aware of cultural differences and help them understand the maids better," Merriam Cuasay, labour attache at the Philippines embassy here, told Streats.