My friend's maid bolted as soon as the car arrived at the airport.

My friend Alice's Filipino maid Betta Tuday * ran away as soon as they arrived at Changi Airport. According to Alice, she was such a terrible maid. She lied and cheated, she smoked, she burnt her hubby's dress shirts, she did everything a maid should not do. Well, almost everything.

Alice was new in Singapore and she saw so many happy expatriate women with their contented children and their devoted maids. And some of them also were such great cooks their employers would invite friends home for dinner, just to make them envious for having such a great maid. They did a good job keeping the house neat and tidy and the clothes washed and immaculately ironed.

So Alice jumped at the opportunity to hire someone's else maid Betta. The employer Mrs Candide Knott had posted a notice on a bulletin board which read thus:

Singapore Cold Grocery
Notice Board

  I have a wonderful Filipino maid and I hate to let her go. But I am going home to San Cisco next month when my husband's contract expires. She is an excellent cook and fantastic with children. If interested, please send email ( or call me on my cell phone 9999-9999. Save on agency fee.

She thought the price was right, too. Mrs Candide Knott was an expatriate from her hometown of San Cisco. No, they did not know each other and have not met to this day. Mrs Candide Knott told Alice that Betta was a great maid, loved children, blah, blah and blah (or is it yada, yada?). And to top it all, she was a great cook. And Alice swallowed everything line, sinker and hook.

Betta was nothing if not wonderful. Her steak was edible and she could really entertain the children with stories if she was in a good mood. But after a couple of weeks her true colours began to show. Alice was confused. Her compatriot from San Cisco praised her highly. "Is there something wrong with me? Am I the problem?" Alice thought to herself. She thought she might call Mrs Candide Knott. Hopefully she had not gone for good.

Indeed Candide had knott gone and was probably not going for another two years. Lucky for Alice. But the former could not explain the vast gap between the Betta as she described her and the one that Alice was getting to know. Finally, when Candide could offer no plausible explanation, she admitted to Alice that she had knott been quite candide. If she told the truth no one would hire Betta.

Now that she was finally convinced that she had been had, Alice decided to terminate the contract and send Betta packing. At first she agonised over her decision. It was not as if she had not tried to talk to her. It was a bad mistake and she felt that it was not right to palm her off to another unsuspecting expat employer.

So after some hesitation, she purchased a one-way ticket for Betta, cancelled the work permit and the next morning gave her one hour to pack and go to the airport. Sounds cruel, giving her only one hour. But Alice had been warned that if a maid was told in advance she would run away to the embassy and she would have more problems.

And even after the work permit has been cancelled, maids are known to run away. Some would even threaten to jump from a great height, for in their moment of distress they thought it was betta to die than to be repatriated. Having been thus warned, Alice's husband John came along. However upon arriving at the airport, Betta who had given no hint that she would resist going home, suddenly opened the door as soon as the car came to a halt and bolted.

John sprinted after her and managed to restrain her. But she simply refused to go home. The airport police was summoned, but they said that they had no power to force the maid to leave. They would not arrest her either because she had a Special Pass which would only expire at midmight. Only then would she be considered an overstayer.

Alice was in a bind. She could not force Betta to go against her will. If only she had waited one more day, she thought. Then Betta's Special Pass would have expired and the airport police would have no choice but to arrest her for overstaying if she refused to go home, Alice surmised. Would the police actually arrest a maid for having overstayed only a few hours?

At it was, Betta was free to disappear and hide among her friends and meanwhile Alice risked losing the five-thousand dollar security bond she put up for the privilege of employing a foreign maid.

What can an employer do to shield herself from this?


Copyright (c) 2001, Inter-Mares