For both groups — those regularly working and those with injury and salary claims– the threat of premature repatriation creates a lot of stress. It is the most important stress factor among working workers, and the second-most important, after being injured, among injured and salary-claim workers.

Having uncleared debts incurred in agents fees also hung heavily over them.

For working workers, making phone calls home also creates stress. Although the reasons why were not explored, it is believed that they often face demands for money, or they hear of family problems, yet, being in Singapore, can’t do anything to help.

For injured and salary-claim workers, being married was found to be a stressor, perhaps for similar reasons as the above.

Koh Chiu Yee and Nicholas Harrigan

Koh Chiu Yee and Nicholas Harrigan

The findings came out of a survey conducted by Nick Harrigan and Koh Chiu Yee of the Singapore Management University in August 2013. A team of about 50 survey-takers, all volunteers, interviewed 270 working workers and 335 injured and salary-claim workers. The researchers presented their preliminary findings to academics, students and representatives of NGOs and the Ministry of Manpower at a small seminar on 4 October 2013.

65% of injured and salary-claim workers reported that they had been threatened by their employers with premature repatriation. Of working workers, 12% have been so threatened. Such intimidatory behaviour by employers seems very common.

The most striking finding was how miserable injured and salary-claim workers were. Some 62% of them exhibited symptoms of serious mental illness, compared to just 12% of working workers.

For working workers, having cleared their agent fee debts was a positive factor, reducing stress. But even more important was belonging to circles of friends.

For injured and salary-claim workers, time elapsed since injury was a positive factor.

Some other interesting data also came out of the survey. Only 7% of injured and salary-claim workers were in employer-provided accommodation, showing how ineffective is the ministry’s policy of getting employers to house workers even when they are on Special Passes. The equivalent figure among working workers was 80%.

Some 36% of injured workers reported that their employers were not providing adequate medical treatment, while 40% said they were not receiving medical leave wages.

harrigan_0556aWhat was even more striking was that the average elapsed time since injury for injured workers was 240 days, but workers only got an average of 87 days of medical leave. What this means is that for most of the time, these injured workers are without any subsistence allowance at all since medical leave wages are only payable when they are given MCs.

During question time, there were several questions — some quite technical about the analysis — from students and academics. Representatives from TWC2 helped fill in contextual information when asked. However, the five persons from the Ministry of Manpower did not ask any question.

On a lighter note, the survey also discovered soap preferences among interviewed workers. Originally, the plan was to give out two bars of Imperial Leather soap — considered to be a luxury brand of sorts — to each interviewed worker. However, workers asked for made-in-India brands with higher perfume content. Harrigan’s observation was that this was in keeping with young men’s preferences all over the world — for stronger scents.