Photo: Straits Times

At the parliamentary sitting of Monday, March 5, 2012, the member for the Silat precinct of Tanjong Pagar group representation constituency, Indranee Rajah, spoke of what she recently discovered about the situation injured foreign workers found themselves in. Residents had complained about the large numbers of foreign workers in their area.

The People’s Action Party member took the Ministry of Manpower to task, albeit in gentle language since she belonged to the party of government too, about their extremely slow processes and lack of attention to subsistence needs of workers.

For an audio recording of what she said, click here.

See also the accompanying article: Indranee Rajah takes Manpower ministry to task — comment.

Here is the transcript for the above-mentioned audio:


I’ve received many complaints from residents in the Silat precinct of  Tanjong Pagar Tiong Bahru division about foreign workers loitering at the void decks of HDB blocks. The residents felt uncomfortable for safety and security reasons. I asked the agencies why the foreign workers were there, but I couldn’t get a definitive answer, so I decided to go and find out for myself.

One evening, at about 11 pm, I went to the precinct accompanied by two volunteers. I approached the foreign workers and asked them why they were there. They said they were from Punjab; they had work-related injuries, they were waiting for their [work-]compensation claims to be processed, and they couldn’t work in the meantime due to their injuries. As they couldn’t work, their employers were not interested in their welfare. The employers provided dormitory places, but no food.

Some employers were smarter. Knowing that the workers were vegetarians, they offered them normal fare, but not vegetarian food, so that they could not be accused of not feeding them.

Employers also didn’t pay them, so they had no money.

They, therefore, come to the Sikh temple at Silat because the temple offers free vegetarian food as part of its charitable programmes. They save on transport by not returning to the dormitories, choosing instead to hang around the precinct next to the temple, because of the pleasant greenery and pavilions which were intended for residents, but have now become a congregation place for the foreign workers. Some workers have been waiting for eight months for their claims to be processed.

Although, this example pertains to Silat, this is in fact, an island-wide issue as I’ve read of similar complaints in many parts of the island.

There are actually two main root causes of the problem: One, the employer’s conduct, and two, the length of time to process the claims in the labour tribunals.

I understand that employers are supposed to give foreign workers an allowance and food pending claim resolutions, but this is not happening on the ground, so this is an enforcement issue. I would ask MOM to step up enforcement, and if necessary, increase the penalties and disincentives for defaulting employers, and if MOM says it needs to have information on defaulting employers before it can act, all it needs to do is to send its officers down to the Silat precinct and it will have a one-stop centre with a rich source of information.

To be effective, the investigating officers must come at night and have Punjabi translators available. If they need tables, chairs and a venue – all of which to conduct interviews – please let me know, and I’ll be happy to make the necessary arrangements.

The other problem is the time it’s taking to process the claims. Whilst a few months is okay for personal injury cases where the plaintiffs are citizens or PRs, it’s a long time when you’re a foreign worker with no work, no money, and are dependent on charity for food.

I would, therefore, urge MOM to fast track foreign worker claims, in terms of investigation, evidence-gathering and hearings. There also needs to be coordination with [Ministry of Health] to expedite the issuance of medical reports, and with the insurance companies for quicker processing and payouts in those cases where the injuries are covered by insurance.

— MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Indranee Rajah on foreign workers in Parliament, 5 Mar 2012.