Singapore may be one of the biggest employers of domestic helpers, but when it comes to their rights and protection, it lags behind. Maids here are offered no guaranteed minimum wage or maximum working hours, nor are they automatically entitled to a day off every week. Employers can also dismiss them without notice or right of appeal and send them home immediately. In Hong Kong, even with the imposition of the controversial monthly levy of HK$400, maids will earn a minimum of HK$3,270 a month, almost three times that of their counterparts in Singapore. A monthly salary here averages the equivalent of HK$890-$1,340, less than the monthly levy imposed on employers. Ministry of Manpower figures show there are more than 140,000 foreign maids in Singapore - nearly one in eight households has one and they are viewed as an integral part of society. Last year, when a local newspaper conducted a survey about the idea of Singaporeans doing without maids, half the people interviewed said it was not an option. Maids here are much more than cleaners and cooks. For many households, they play such an important role in child-rearing that the Institute of Mental Health has just completed a preliminary study of their impact on children. Despite this, cases of maid abuse have regularly hogged newspaper headlines. The most horrific was that of Indonesian maid Muawantul Chasanah, who was beaten with a hammer, burned with cigarettes, scalded with boiling water, starved and ultimately beaten to death. Her employer was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced last year to a total of 181/2 years in prison and 12 strokes of the cane. According to officials, only 214 foreign domestic workers filed claims with the Ministry of Manpower against their employers last year, against 181 claims in 2001. There were also 43 substantiated police cases (up on 41) involving slapping, kicking and pinching. There may be many cases that go unreported, which is why some are arguing that the required twice-a-year medical checkup for maids would be a good opportunity to ask if they have been abused. A group of 50 'public-spirited' individuals is also trying to raise awareness of the problems the workers face. So far, the government has been pushing for punitive measures to counter serious cases of violence against maids, such as increasing fines by 150 per cent. It has also held out on increasing the levy on foreign domestic workers. But officials still seem to be addressing the issue by trying to improve employers' behaviour, rather than workers' rights.