Before you begin your search for domestic help (maid, cook, nanny, gardener, etc.), it is important to define your needs, understand your own management style, know the local pay scales and discover what constitutes competence within the confines of Myanmar culture.
There are no laws issued by the government to protect domestic workers, no employee taxes to consider and no labor regulations. Labor in Myanmar is generally inexpensive, and chances are, you can find help to meet your budget.
The following text is designed to take you through the process of deciding whether or not to hire domestic help, particularly a maid or cook, and then how to interview and select a candidate, and, finally, how to work productively with your staff.
Do I Need to Employ Domestic Help?
Of course, there is no rule that says you must hire anyone. But keep in mind that Yangon is a hot and humid city where cleaning is an everyday job rather than once a week. Other factors to keep in mind:
- Dust and dirt – not to mention perspiration – necessitate that clothing is washed every time it is worn.
- More kitchen work is involved in the simplest of tasks – cleaning fruits and vegetables, for example.
- Shopping is difficult and time-consuming; you may need to visit several shops or markets to find what you need.
- You may want to entertain more than is typical in the U.S., where there are movies, TV, and other diversions.
- A household employee may be helpful as a guardian of your home possessions and as an interpreter of the local language, customs, and food.
What Kind of Help will I need?
The size of your family, the size of your home, the age of your children and your expectations will help determine your requirements.
For example, if you love cooking but hate cleaning, you may want just a housekeeper. Perhaps you have young children and social obligations, in which case you will need a maid who can babysit as well. Or you have a family of three teenagers, two working parents, entertainment requirements and you hate to cook. Can one person reasonably be expected to fill all those needs, or should you hire a second person, part-time, to help with laundry?
These are all questions to consider before you interview candidates. A very useful experience is to go without extra help for a few weeks, which will give you an idea of what you need and what you can reasonably expect from a maid/cook/etc.
How do I find domestic help?
Finding help isn’t as hard as you may think. On moving in, you may “inherit” staff (which comes with its own unique problems). A friend or neighbor’s maid may bring their friends or family over for you to interview. Other Americans may know of available staff, or someone who is leaving may want to place a dependable person at the time you arrive.
How much does it cost?
Talk to your neighbors, colleagues, and friends, and get a ball-park figure of what they pay and what they get for their money. The candidate you are considering will have an idea of what he or she would like to make, but it’s best to decide the range you are willing to pay first.
Typical Yangon domestic staff salaries range from a low of 120,000 kyat a month to a high of 300,000 kyat, with an average of 200,000 kyat. The majority of domestic staff is paid once a month with a 13th-month bonus each year, often given in the month of December. Cooks and cook/housekeepers and drivers tend to be the top paid, followed by nannies, gardeners, and guards.
Benefits you can offer
In addition to salary, there are other ways to offer your domestic staff benefits. Consider some of these possible benefits:
- Provide uniforms or money for work clothes.
- Provide basic medical assistance for dental, health check-ups, immunizations, and emergency medical expenses.
- Staff room and board.
- School supplies for children of staff.
- Meals while working.
- Transportation expenses, particularly early or late hours.
- English classes and other improvement opportunities.
- English reading material.
The United States Embassy Health Unit recommends 30th Street Clinic to American Embassy employees’ inquiry for their domestic staff’s medical exam. Employers must pay the medical check costs.
If this person will be working in your home, handling your food and especially if they will be caring for your children, then it’s a good idea to request some health screening, to be sure any communicable, treatable conditions your staff might have is treated. The following tests are advised, and as you are requesting the tests, you are expected to pay to have them done:
- TB test
- stool exam
- blood tests (E.g. for Hepatitis, TB)
Assess what you need by what your priorities are (childcare vs. cooking vs. housekeeping). Remember that you set their schedules to suit your needs. Keep in mind the following guidelines:
Ask for letters of reference, but take them with a grain of salt – use them more to verify previous employment or that the maid did indeed work previously for an American family, then as a testament to her cooking/cleaning abilities.
Make it clear that there will be a trial period before he/she is permanently hired, designate that period explicitly (two weeks, one month, two months)
during the interview, decide if this seems to be a pleasant, low-key person you would enjoy having in your home. Know your own limitations – Are you good at training someone with little experience and a language different from your own? Or do you want someone who speaks English and has worked in an American home before? If so, expect to pay more, this person has skills that are worth something
Discuss the duties you wish performed. Don’t expect the impossible. Can you take care of two preschoolers, fix lunch, clean the whole house, take accurate phone messages in a foreign language and still cook for a dinner party that evening? Probably not, but it’s easy to expect more when you’re paying for it. Decide what’s most important to you and let them know your priorities.
Check letters of reference to verify honesty and reliability as well as discover areas of competence. Ask how long he or she worked for other families and why she left, as well as the duties for which she was responsible.
Is the employee married and does he/she have children? Who cares for the children? When hiring live-ins, you must decide whether or not it is feasible and desirable to have spouses and/or children in the staff quarters. Specify exactly which relatives may live with your staff (child, spouse, sister, etc.) and make clear your wishes regarding daytime visitors (relatives, friends, other servants, etc.) Rules regarding staff pets should also be defined.
It may be prudent to have wages paid twice monthly or every week so that employees do not have to wait very long between paydays. After a period of satisfactory service (maybe a year), a small raise is often given. Discuss the requirement of having employees sign or initial a notebook in a businesslike manner each payday. Always record advances and the repayment of advances. Be sure they understand that they will not be paid for days not worked. Decide whether you will provide meals or a food allowance for live-ins. Usually, live-ins will use your kitchen, cooking utensils, and maybe oil, salt and sugar.
Clarify which holiday your prospective staff will be celebrating and then honor that day as a paid holiday. Also, ask whether or not he/she is willing to stay occasionally if you need help during the weekend, for equal time off during the week.
Tell your staff that you will hold them accountable for loss or irresponsible damage to valuable household goods and stress the fact that you are depending on them to protect your things. If you expect them to pay for broken items (within reason), tell them so at once.
You will want to establish your authority right away. Make it clear that you are in charge, and all menus and any changes in the house should be at your direction or with your approval. Handling all payment to household staff, as well as giving all the directions for the management of the house, will help to establish authority. Employees want to be treated with dignity, respect, and good humor. Treating them as a friend, while it may appeal to your American sense of equality, will eventually create a difficult relationship for both of you. Keep your distance and maintain the employer/employee status.
Guidelines for Training your Staff
Once you let it be clearly understood what you expect, adhere firmly to your expectations. Communications may be difficult. Patience and slow, clear instructions will be necessary. They can’t do what you want if they don’t know what that is.
Go over what you want more than once. Don’t assume that they will know how to clean your bedroom, wash the dishes or run the washing machine, regardless of what they say. Because they are so eager to please, they will quickly say yes or that they understand, but you will want to continue to supervise, just to make sure. Show him/her carefully, in person, at least initially. Supervise to make sure your appliances are used correctly. You may have to demonstrate a particular task several times before the employee learns how to do it your way.
You should make it clear that employees are not to use your personal items (hair dryer, sewing machine, etc.) or telephone unless you wish to allow such use. A good general rule in dealing with staff could be “don’t expect your servants to do things unless you have told them to, and don’t expect them not to do things unless you have told them not to”.
Inform family members that leaving a trail of disorder behind and expecting the maid to put everything away is poor training for the whole family. Maintain your own standards and those of your children by insisting that each person assume responsibility for personal belongings with an eye to happier staff relations and to the day when you return to the U.S.
Make sure the employee knows the full name of each person in the family. There have been cases of emergency situations where the maid knew only that her employers’ names were Madam and Sir. Good emergency policy dictates that office phone numbers, mobile numbers and one or two friends’ names and numbers are posted by the phone.
Leave some money in a drawer or somewhere that your maid knows to be used ONLY if a child has to be taken to the hospital in an emergency situation. “Saving face” is very important. Not only does domestic staff want to save their own, they want to save yours. If an employee looks dubious about an order, ask why. A good maid can set you straight so tactfully that you don’t even know you have been corrected. Respect is a two-way street. Remember not to talk about the staff, friends or associates in front of your help, and do not discuss negative perceptions about their country in front of them, either.
Employees who shop for you will probably serve both you and themselves by making purchases at prices lower than would be possible for you. Keep records of cash given and check regularly. Be sure they know which receipts you need to keep for your records. Let your maid and other staff know that you appreciate them by complimenting them on a job well done.
If staff does not work out…
Because there is so little protection for maids in their jobs, unless they have committed an egregious violation, severance pay would be appropriate. For example – Severance pay is equal to one pay period (i.e. if you pay weekly, one week’s pay and if you pay monthly, one month’s pay is owed upon termination).
Recommended amount for termination pay upon your departure
If duties have been performed satisfactorily by the Employee termination pay will be paid in the amount of one month’s salary for each full year of service. Partial years should be counted as follows: three to six months, two weeks salary; seven to twelve months, four weeks salary. No payment should be made for service of fewer than three months.