The new rules were issued Monday by the Ministry of Manpower, which warned that foreign workers hired from countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines may not be used to towering buildings and their dangers. Singaporean media have spread alarming photos of foreign maids squatting or inching along sills, trying to clean windows in perilously high apartments.
Nine people have fallen and lost their lives since January, five of them while washing windows, two while hanging laundry. The other two deaths are still being investigated.
"Sometimes they know something is dangerous, but they do it because they want to work hard," one Indonesian maid in Singapore told the Associated Press last month. Maids may also face pressure from their employers to take on unsafe tasks.
The falling deaths, chronicled one by one in the Singaporean media, led the Indonesian government to push for stricter rules and spurred Singapore authorities to step in. Under the new rules, maids in Singapore are banned from washing the outside of upstairs windows unless a window grille has been installed and is locked the whole time. They must also be supervised during the cleaning.
The Ministry of Manpower also said it plans to double the punishments for Singapore employers who put foreign maids in danger, upping the penalties to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. Anyone who fails to follow the rules can be barred from hiring foreign maids in the future.
The new rules on window washing are the latest step Singapore has taken toward easing the burden on more than 200,000 domestic workers who come to the wealthy state from abroad. Earlier this year, it granted them a weekly day of rest.
But the country still falls short of global standards for decent work, Human Rights Watch said in March. Singapore decided not to sign an international pact to protect domestic workers last year. Abusive working conditions have long been lamented by workers' rights groups. They say many maids have been underfed, overworked or deprived of their pay, which typically amounts to a dollar an hour.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Indonesian maid Nita Asis cleans apartment windows in Singapore in this file photo taken on Aug. 1, 2001. Credit: Simon Thong / Associated Press