The director of the Foreign Manpower Management Division, Kevin Teoh, told the commission of inquiry looking into the Little India riots that his ministry does not abandon workers. This was after TWC2 president Russell Heng had hold the committee in earlier testimony that workers “basically have to resort to charity to survive in Singapore” as they waited for their complaints — usually salary arrears or work injury compensation — to be sorted out. Russell added that while the law required employers to care for their workers in the interim, TWC2’s experience was that “in practice, this is not the case”.
Russell was following on his description of TWC2’s soup kitchen where we feed some 350 “abandoned workers” daily.
Mr Teoh disagreed with the notion that MOM abandoned these workers and said when an employer is unable or unwilling to fulfil its obligation, the ministry would step in to house the worker and provide food — sometimes in partnership with help groups such as the Migrant Workers’ Centre — while a complaint is investigated.
“Sir, like you, I was equally surprised when he made the assertion here,” said Mr Teoh. “We are now checking with him specifically which are those workers he is referring to. If he has the necessary information, we’re prepared to look into it.”
He also clarified that while a complaint is being investigated, there is no ban on a worker seeking alternate employment as long as permission has been granted him by MOM.
— Straits Times, 19 March 2014, Little India Inquiry. MOM: Workers told of rights even before coming here, by Lim Yan Liang
On another note, Teoh told the committee that education efforts began even before a worker arrived in Singapore, as guidelines on worker obligations and rights were issued to overseas training centres.
TWC2’s first thought hearing this is that no worker has ever mentioned receiving such information from training centres; it could well be that the centres suppress the material. Secondly, many workers do not go through training centres before coming here.
The guidelines are given once more to all workers when they are fingerprinted in Singapore for their work permit cards, and they have to take mandatory exams to test their knowledge of employment rights before they begin work. “So, collectively, we don’t believe that the worker does not know his basic rights, does not know where to go,” said Mr Teoh. “There are many avenues available to him.”
On workers being sent home against their will and before their dues have been settled, Teoh said it was untrue that workers are being forcibly repatriated. He pointed out that it is a topic covered in the materials provided to guest workers.
He told the committee that workers could inform immigration officers at the checkpoint if they had ongoing employment-related complaints that were being investigated by MOM. The ministry dealt with 23 such cases flagged by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority last year, he added.
On the last point, see this story about one such worker sent to the airport in 2013: Gripped by two repatriation agents, Monjor is taken to airport. As of March 2014, his case is still not “dealt with”.