TWC2 urges National Wages Council to set fair and non-discriminatory pay guidelines

Posted by on April 7, 2011 in News, Our Stand

Transient Workers Count Too and HOME sent a joint letter to the National Wages Council in April 2011:

5 April 2011

The Secretary
National Wages Council
C/O Labour Relations Department
Level 6, Ministry of Manpower
18 Havelock Road
Singapore 059764

Dear Sir,

VIEWS ON NATIONAL WAGES GUIDELINES 2011

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) are organisations concerned about the well being of migrant workers. We believe that they should be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness and we welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on Singapore’s National Wages Guidelines for 2011/2012.

It is reassuring to note that the Guidelines make specific references to helping “vulnerable people in the workplace.” We make this submission on behalf of Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) and Foreign Workers (FWs), who are among the most vulnerable of low wage workers.

We understand that the key priority for the Council is setting standards and best employment practices for local workers. We feel it is time however, that FDWs and FWs are recognised and included in the forthcoming guidelines, for the following reasons:-

  • The work of foreign domestic workers is equal to other forms of labour, involving up to 16 hours per day, 7 days per week at an approximate hourly rate of $0.78. This is their earning power after circa 10 months, when their salary is no longer offset against payment of recruitment and agency fees.  What is even more shocking is that this paltry hourly rate is deemed sufficient given the strength of our economy and relatively high income per capita.
  • Foreign domestic workers constitute a significant percentage of workers in Singapore (approximately 200,000), and contribute to Singapore’s overall productivity and output by taking over household chores, childminding and care of the elderly, thereby allowing Singapore citizens to return to the workforce.
  • Demand for Foreign Domestic Workers is outstripping supply, as workers are attracted to better pay, better conditions and better protection in other countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. If we are to reverse this trend, Singapore must leverage every opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to protecting domestic workers on our shores.
  • The International Labour Organisation, of which Singapore is a member, has been arguing for a standard setting convention for domestic workers in recognition of their vulnerable status. This includes equality of treatment and rights to other forms of paid labour. The proposed convention has the support of many governments and Singapore should show its commitment and take the lead to uphold decent work standards; including domestic workers in the NWC’s guidelines would be a significant step.
  • Salaries of foreign workers on work permit in sectors such as the construction, marine, manufacturing and services sector have remained stagnant with many earning a basic salary average of $2 to $4 per hour. The increase in foreign worker levies discourages employers from paying a decent wage to foreign workers because of increased business costs. Employers demanding kickbacks from workers have also been reported. The government’s current drive to increase productivity is correct, but productivity gains should not be attained through measures which encourage and perpetuate the systemic exploitation of low wage workers, whether they are local or foreign.
  • Many foreign workers put in an average of 10 to 12 hours a day with a significant number who work up to between 14 and 16 hours a day without any days off. 24 hour shifts among some workers have also been reported. Such excessive hours are in violation of local labour laws. Foreign workers feel compelled to work such excessive hours because they need to earn enough to pay their recruitment fees, which may amount to $10,000. Their current wage levels mean that many of them have to work for a year or more just to recover fees that they have paid to recruitment agents.

It is our submission that the National Wages Council Guidelines include specific recommendations for Foreign Domestic Workers that would include directives on minimum pay levels that are dependent on skill set and job scope, rather than the prevailing discriminatory market practice of determining wage levels by nationality.

We also urge the Council to develop guidelines to ensure other low wage foreign workers on work permits are remunerated fairly. Migrant workers account for a third of Singapore’s work force and Singapore’s economy would collapse without them. Ensuring decent wages is only the right thing to do in recognition of the contributions they make to our country.

TWC2 recalls the points made to the NWC in its letter of 16th April 2010 (see Appendix 1 below) and wishes to make it clear that it is aware of existing policies on the wages of migrant workers and the role of the NWC. In co-signing this letter, it is proposing a change.

Yours faithfully,

Bridget Tan
President
Humanitarian Organisation for
Migration Economics (HOME)
Russell Heng
President
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

APPENDIX 1

16 April 2010
The Secretary
National Wages Council
C/O Labour Relations Department
Level 6, Ministry of Manpower
18 Havelock Road
Singapore 059764

Dear NWC,

As a society concerned with the well-being of migrant workers in Singapore, Transient Workers Count Too wishes to appeal to you to give consideration to the raising of salaries in the lowest paid sectors of the economy, where migrant workers are concentrated.

Salaries of most work permit holders have failed to keep pace with rising costs, including the cost of placement, since the end of the last century. While efforts have been made to raise the skill levels of local low-paid workers so that they qualify for posts carry improved salaries, migrant workers have tended to be left behind.

This is evidently to their disadvantage, but also to that of the overall Singaporean economy. Improved pay levels would increase the incentive for workers to sign up again after their first placement for work in Singapore, and so the country would gain greater benefit from their enhanced skill levels, instead of seeing a large proportion go elsewhere at the end of their contracts and needing to replace them with inexperienced new workers.

In the shipyard and construction sectors, hours are often long and the work is hard and hazardous, despite serious efforts to raise safety standards, and yet most workers are paid $2-$4 an hour. This is inadequate compensation for their work.

It may be that the council would consider domestic workers salaries as being beyond its purview, in the informal sector. We hope not; what other body concerned with salaries will speak up for them otherwise? Most domestic workers are at present paid between $300 and $400 a month. The pay of a worker with no day off and a salary of $350 therefore works out at $11.67 a day. Many work long hours; for a 15 hour day, this would mean a worker being paid 78 cents an hour.

In view of the exceptionally low pay of domestic workers and their limited bargaining power, we believe that the introduction of a minimum wage (if necessary from a policy viewpoint, specifically limited to domestic workers as a special case) would be an effective means of redressing this situation. We note that the Philippines is seeking to establish an internationally accepted minimum monthly salary for its nationals of US$400 and suggest that this might be considered as a good starting point for considering its level.

The government has highlighted the need for enhanced productivity in Singapore’s economy. Reducing the level of turnover among migrant workers through improving salary levels could be one strong component element in the drive for improved productivity. Even if current efforts to curb recruitment, allied to a reduction in demand from the construction sector, produce a stabilisation or drop in migrant worker numbers, it is unlikely to radically alter the high level of migrant worker participation in Singapore’s economy. A long term relationship between migrant workers and Singapore society will develop more favourably for all concerned if locals and foreign workers are made to feel that they share a common interest in Singapore’s rising prosperity, reflected in enhanced pay levels, rather than being competitors who can only gain at each other’s expense.

Yours sincerely,

John Gee
President
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our
means.

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