FOR the past two years, mother of four Zaiton Abdullah, 49, has mopped and cleaned hotel rooms at a budget hotel in Pasir Panjang from 8am to 4pm, six days a week.

By 5pm, she is back home in Bukit Panjang to cook dinner for her husband and four boys, aged 14 to 29.

After dinner, she does housework until midnight.

"I am a working housewife," she tells Insight with a laugh.

In the last decade, Singapore has enjoyed some success in persuading more mothers like Madam Zaiton to rejoin the workforce. The female labour force participation rate rose from 52 per cent in 2001 to 57 per cent last year. This is higher than Hong Kong's 51 per cent and Malaysia's 44 per cent but falls short of countries such as Canada and the Nordic countries, where it is over 60 per cent.

The Manpower Ministry's labour market report last year found that the main reasons keeping as many as 328,400 working-age females out of the labour force were family responsibilities, such as housework and childcare.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong says there is no single formula to get housewives back to work. "The key factors are supportive family members and understanding employers who can be flexible in work arrangements," she says.

Madam Zaiton agrees. Her husband, 53, a courier delivery man, helps her with housework.

She credits her employer, the M-Luck Group which provides outsourced housekeeping staff to local hotels, for hiring and training her two years ago, even though she did not have formal education or housekeeping experience.

She was previously a cleaner, earning less than $1,000 a month. Now, as a hotel housekeeper, her pay has risen to $1,300.

She is also grateful for flexible hours. Her boss lets her leave the hotel earlier, after she finishes cleaning her share of hotel rooms, so she can be home in time to prepare dinner.

"Last month, I also applied for two days of urgent leave because my brother was sick in Malaysia, and the boss said 'no problem'," she adds.