EMPLOYERS will soon have to sign an agreement to ensure that their maids follow safety guidelines when they clean the exterior of windows at their homes.

Maids and maid agents will also be required to sign the form, to be introduced by the year end.

Maid agents were told of this new agreement at a closed-door briefing yesterday by Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officers. About 500 agents attended the 21/2-hour meeting.

In response to The Straits Times' queries last night, MOM said employment agencies have a "major role" to play in ensuring maids' safety at work. The meeting was held to notify them of the new initiative and the results of a recent audit of 65 agencies.

The agreement comes after new safety measures announced recently by the ministry, including having an employer or adult supervise maids when they clean the exterior of windows, installing window grilles and ensuring that the grilles are locked when the windows are being cleaned.

The instructions are also printed on the form, the agents said.

They were told that signing the new agreement will be part of the conditions for getting a licence. Agents who do not sign or issue the form may be fined up to $5,000, jailed for six months, or receive both a fine and a jail term.

This year, nine foreign maids have died after falling from high-rise buildings.

Maid agents who attended the briefing had mixed views about the new agreement.

Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K.Jayaprema said: "The new agreement makes the work of agents more tedious but they should take it in their stride. Agents and employers are responsible for the safety of maids."

Orange Employment Agency owner Shirley Ng said: "We can lend a helping hand to reinforce the safety message but we should not be held liable for safety. It is first and foremost the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety of their maids since they are living in their employers' homes."

Employers interviewed said the form was a way to reinforce the importance of safety.

Human resource manager Susanna Sim, 54, who has employed maids for more than 15 years, said employers may forget what they have signed but "they must believe in the importance of these safety precautions so that it comes naturally to them to watch over their maids".

The agents were also told yesterday that 65 maid agencies in Bukit Timah were inspected recently by MOM officers and about 70 per cent were found to have breached MOM's requirements for employment agencies. These included agency staff not wearing proper identification cards and receipts that did not detail clearly what customers were paying for.

MOM told the agents also that it would introduce a standard biodata form for maids soon and it would be made part of licensing conditions for them.