Where your dollars went 2017

Posted by on May 25, 2018 in

Upon the discontinuation of 2G phone signals in March 2017, TWC2 gave out hundreds of 3G phones to out-of-work workers who would otherwise not have been able to afford them. Here a volunteer helps a worker set up his new 3G phone.

In 2017, nearly 94 percent of TWC2’s spending went towards charitable activities, benefitting our clients in a direct or relatively direct way. This reflects our philosophy of frugality we are proud of.

We spent very little on governance costs and on fund-raising.

Out of the total expenditure of $881,098, the pie chart below shows the split:

[The terms ‘governance costs’ and ‘cost of generating funds’ are explained below.]

Total income in the year was $967,766, leaving us with a surplus of $86,668. About 94 percent of this income came from voluntary donations. The surplus represents about 9.8 percent, or less than five weeks of running costs (based on 2017 expenditure).

Building reserves is particularly important as client cases stretch months, sometimes years. It is hardly wise to be operating hand to mouth, vulnerable to unexpected funding shortfalls and leaving clients in the lurch. Moreover, having reserves that assure continuity provide our staff with job security and good career prospects, which in turn reduces staff turnover and retains expertise.

TWC2 runs a multiplicity of charitable activities in order to realise our mission, firstly, of assisting workers in need of (a) urgent support and (b) help in accessing available avenues to obtain fair treatment; and secondly, advocating for better policies governing work migration.

The pie chart below shows the expenditure for different programs and activities, within the sprawling scope of ‘Charitable activities’, which constituted nearly 94% of 2017 overall expenditure:

To avoid clutter in the pie chart above, the figures are shown separately in the table below:

 

The numbers behind the pie charts and table come from the audited accounts for 2017 — our financial year coincides with the calendar year — which were, as for several years now, audited in accordance with the Charity Accounting Standard (CAS). Singapore’s Commissioner of Charities strongly recommends that non-profit organisations abide by the CAS standard.

CAS makes an important conceptual distinction among three types of expenditure, and this report follows this classification. They are:

  • Governance costs
  • Cost of generating funds
  • Cost of charitable activities

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GOVERNANCE COSTS

These are expenses that would have to be incurred by the organisation even if we did little by way of charitable activities. They include accounting costs and audit fees; bank charges; the cost of holding an Annual General Meeting and whatever is needed to comply with law; and a share of rent, telecommunication costs and office supplies.

In 2017, we spent only $45.6k, or 5.2% of total expenditure on these functions.
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COST OF GENERATING FUNDS

These are expenses incurred by activities whose purpose is to raise funds. TWC2 generally avoids organising splashy fund-raising events, relying instead on appealing to donors either through personal contact or through social media.

Consequently, we spent very little on raising funds. In 2017, a mere $8.0k, or 0.9% of total expenditure, was classed by our auditors as such.
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The Cuff Road Project does not only provide free meals to injured and out-of-work workers, it’s also an accessible contact point for simple advice.

COST OF CHARITABLE ACTIVITIES

This third category forms the bulk of our 2017 spending — over 93.9% of total expenditure. As shown in the second pie chart above and the discussion below, this category can be further split by programme or purpose.

 Cuff Road Project

Our free meals programme, benefitting out-of-work migrant workers, is the largest of our projects in terms of expenditure.

Not only is nourishment essential for human life, this programme creates an easy, welcoming contact point for injured and salary-unpaid workers to come and talk to our volunteers. We are right on the street, and it is not in the least intimidating to walk up and talk to us.

Simple queries can be handled by our volunteers. Workers with more complex problems are referred to our main office where help from social workers will be forthcoming.

 Social Worker Always There

Two China workers consult with one of TWC2’s social workers at our office

Our social work assistance comes under the moniker ‘Social Worker Always There’ or SWAT for short. Our expert staff provide advice and case assistance to workers in need. Common types of assistance provided by social workers include:

  • Calculating what their correct salaries and overtime pay should be and how to commence a claim;
  • Advising workers about their rights when employers become abusive or unreasonable, including helping workers flee when trapped;
  • Helping workers make police reports when assaulted, or cheated;
  • Assisting them in filling forms and communicating with government departments — many workers aren’t confident in English;
  • Overcoming obstacles in obtaining medical care;
  • Ensuring they are paid their due compensation.

As can be seen from the list, our social workers fill a critical need. The salary costs, phone, wifi, training and incidental expenses of social workers, and a share of rent, make up the bulk of this spending.

 DaySpace and emergency housing

In order to carry out our many activities, TWC2 needs a multi-purpose space. We rent the upper floor of a shophouse in Little India as our ‘DaySpace’. Among the many uses it is put too are:

  • Safe space in the day for workers to rest in quiet;
  • Registration of clients and consultation (especially when they come in big groups, too big for our office to accommodate);
  • Emergency shelter when workers have had to flee company accommodation in fear;
  • Volunteer induction and training;
  • Public talks;
  • As a location where other charity groups can conduct joint activities with TWC2 (e.g. free medical check-ups).

Effectively, DaySpace is TWC2’s frontline service delivery location that is easy for Bangladeshi and Indian workers to find. It is also a space or organising volunteers and service delivery.

Once a month, TWC2 conducts an orientation briefing for new volunteers at the DaySpace

 Project FareGo

Project FareGo ensures that injured workers have the means to visit doctors and physiotherapists.

TWC2 also helps workers with transport costs. This is an area where regulations (and MOM) provide no help to workers at all. Employers are not mandated to help foreign workers with their transport costs even though hospitals require them to show up for their doctor appointments or physiotherapy. Failure to show up could jeopardise their work injury claims.

Under Project FareGo, we provide top-ups to workers’ stored-value fare cards so that they do not miss their appointments. This programme has rigorous eligibility criteria to keep our costs down.white_20x10

 Medical assistance

In 2017, TWC2 spent an atypically low amount in medical assistance. Out of good fortune, there were fewer cases coming to us needing expensive surgery and medical treatment. In the year, we spent $25.5k when in a normal year we would spend $40k to $50k.

Although employers are required by law to pay for medical care, their liability is capped. Some workers need more medical care beyond the cap. Others find that their employers deny that the injury was work-related, with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) suspending their treatment options until the matter is sorted out (which can take months). Moreover, during the lengthy period recovering from a work injury, a few are hit with an unrelated illness and need to see a doctor or dentist. TWC2 steps in when treatment is urgently needed.

Occasionally, we help pay for major surgery, but we have to be selective. We are conscious that such expenses can rapidly deplete our resources, even though it is difficult turning patients down. Fortunately, in 2017, there were unusually few such instances.white_20x10

 Project Roof

Project Roof helped Mina Rubel pay for a bunk in the shophouse behind him.

We have a small programme to assist workers with the cost of housing.

Here again, accommodation is supposed to be the employer’s responsibility, but there are cases where the employer has made it extremely difficult (e.g. threatening) for the employee to continue living in the company dorm. For his own safety, the worker needs to a place to stay away distant from the employer. This however means the worker needs to pay his own rent.

TWC2 assists workers with financial subsidies. To keep costs within control, the programme operates with extremely strict eligibility criteria.

From experience, this approach of providing subsidies is more flexible than running a shelter in the normal sense, which tends to come with fixed costs.

 Discover Singapore and enrichment classes

For the injured and salary-unpaid workers under our care, the Discover Singapore team of volunteers takes them out once or twice a month on excursions and other sports-type activities. This alleviates workers’ boredom (and risk of depression) as they often have to wait months or years for case resolution. The programme keeps them active and builds social rapport. As much as injured workers need medical care, they also need this kind of support for their psychological wellbeing. TWC2 directs a bit of funding to Discover Singapore for their programmes; some donors have also earmarked their donations for them.

One of many Discover Singapore events, led by enthusiastic volunteers

On Sundays, the DaySpace is given over to two affiliated groups of domestic workers for them to conduct classes. They are the Indonesian Family Network and the Filipino Family Network. TWC2 also helps support their activities with a bit of funding, which comes under the category of ‘Enrichment activities’.

On Sunday evenings, the DaySpace is given over to the Migrant Workers Band so that they have a place to rehearse.

 Outreach

Informing workers that assistance is available from TWC2 is a core activity. For this we rely mostly on our social workers and volunteers, but expenses are incurred printing pamphlets and other literature. To transport the materials to the distribution point also costs a bit of money.

Outreach is relatively low-cost because volunteers provide the bulk of the manpower, but we incur costs in printing and transport.

 Other direct benefits to workers

The above projects do not comprehensively cover injured and salary-unpaid workers needs. Miscellaneous direct benefits include:

  • buying an air ticket for a worker stranded in Singapore, with no employer responsible for repatriation;
  • helping a worker cover the cost of disbursements when he has a worthy court case and is assisted by a probono lawyer;
  • helping a worker pay a fee to obtain copies of his hospital records, without which his injury compensation claim is stuck;
  • helping a worker pay for forensic analysis to prove that salary vouchers tendered by an employer in court are forgeries.

The amounts involved are relatively small, but they are mentioned here to illustrate the variety of emergencies TWC2 has to help with.

In 2017, Singapore switched off the 2G mobile phone network. Our worker clients, being out of work, faced a loss of access to mobile telephony. They didn’t have the financial resources to buy 3G phones, without which they cannot reach us for help or engage with MOM or hospitals. TWC2 organised a donation campaign starting in 2016 and continuing into 2017. In March 2017, the campaign culminated with the distribution of 3G phones to out-of-work workers under our care. The cost of this exercise bumped up the “Other” expenditure for 2017.

 Administrative support and advocacy

Delivery of the above direct services does not come without administrative cost. We need a General Manager and an Administration Officer to coordinate donations and volunteers. There are also office and stationery expenses, printing costs, computers, wifi and communication costs, etc, without which social work or the delivery of assistance cannot be realised.

Providing direct help to workers in need is not the sum total of TWC2’s mission. An equally important goal is to cure the defects in regulations and social attitudes that cause the inequities we see afflicting foreign workers. To this end, TWC2 conducts a range of advocacy activities, chiefly:

  • Research;
  • Communication with the public via website and social media;
  • Engagement with media;
  • Engagement with interested members of the public, including talks given to school or college groups, and with policy-makers

The above naturally come with incidental expenses even if the main part of the work is done by volunteers.