Parliament passed amendments to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) on 11 September 2012. There is no indication from press reports of any further changes to the bill first read at the beginning of August. See TWC2’s Our Stand Statement on the amendments.

As reported by the Straits Times,

Errant employers who try to get around government efforts to tighten the foreign labour supply now face stiff penalties.

Parliament yesterday gave the nod to changes to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. These will help level the playing field for honest employers and protect Singaporeans from unfair job competition, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said.

“Singaporeans ultimately suffer when employers fail to pay the true costs of hiring foreign manpower,” he said.

— Straits Times, 11 Sept 2012,’Creative’ ways to break foreign labour rules? Think again, by Janice Heng

The newspaper also reported that members of parliament from both the People’s Action Party and the opposition “cheered” the changes. However, they stressed the need for effective enforcement, the newspaper wrote. Concerns about small firms’ struggles and a shortage of cleaners at food centres were also surfaced.

Particularly worth noting is the short speech by Workers’ Party member for Hougang, Mr Png Eng Huat, during the debate. His remarks were carried in full on his party’s website:

Mr Speaker Sir,

In the pursuit of economic growth, the business of bringing in migrant foreign workers has spawned into a business that has a life of its own.  The very process of bringing in these workers is so lucrative that it does not matter if there are matching jobs for them.  For some unscrupulous agents, it does not even matter if there are any jobs for these workers for there is money to be made just by landing them here on our shores.

And this lucrative business of bringing in migrant workers alone unwittingly benefits the Government as well because every worker comes with a levy to be paid on the dot on the 17th of each month by GIRO regardless of whether there are matching jobs or any jobs for these workers or not.

For some of these low-wage workers, the dream of providing a better life for their families back home became a nightmare of unpaid wages, unimaginable living conditions, and unending disputes with their employers over wages upon repatriation orders.  We have heard and read horror stories about how some of these migrant workers are being treated and sometimes abandoned the moment injuries befall them.

It is very sad to know that some of these workers, already living in poverty back home and going into debt in order to make the trip here, will end up worse than ever before because of some unscrupulous agents and errant employers.

Although MOM has no shortage of legislation to act against errant employers to begin with, I believe many Singaporeans and VWOs will welcome the amendments in the Employment of Foreign Manpower Bill to strengthen enforcement capabilities and address the abuses and problems faced by low-wage migrant workers.

MOM has been criticized by some NGOs and VWOs for not doing enough to help these low-wage workers in the past.  I once volunteered for a VWO who specializes in helping migrant workers and I was  given such a feedback as well i.e. MOM has enough legislation to deal with errant employers and foreign worker abuses but for some reasons it was slow or reluctant to bite.  With this amendment, I urge the MOM to step up its enforcement.

Going forward, MOM should also look into promoting responsible employment especially for employers of low-wage migrant workers. While enforcement has a role to play, a mindset change will have a bigger impact on our society as a whole.  Singapore is a first world country and we should reflect that in the way we treat migrant foreign workers.

With that, I rise in support of the bill.