Transient Workers Count Too submitted a 23-page set of proposals to government feedback portal REACH  in advance of the 2014 budget debate in Parliament.

Among the many recommendations are these key ones:


A. Permit job mobility among work permit holders

This is key starting point for the oft-stated desire to improve productivity in Singapore. The current situation where workers cannot change employers, but must be repatriated when their job ends, even when terminated prematurely, creates serious undesirable effects:

  • it excessive leverage to employers, some of whom are tempted to exploit it unfairly;
  • leads to under-reporting of abuses and work safety shortcomings when workers are too afraid to blow the whistle;
  • efforts to improve productivity tend to be undercut, as experienced and trained workers are lost to the Singapore economy on repatriation.

To enable job mobility, migrant workers whose work permit has been terminated should be granted a “Job-Search Pass Visa” of up to 30 days, so that they can look for alternative employment.

At the same time, employers should be incentivised to hire migrant workers in Singapore, rather than hiring new workers from abroad. They should also be incentivised to send their workers for training.


B. Alter levy system

Whilst the levy was originally meant to help control the numbers of foreign workers brought into Singapore, this aim is mostly achieved through the Dependency Ratio today. Meanwhile,

… the growth in migrant worker numbers and the increase in levy rates (except on domestic workers) over the past decade or so has resulted in the levy becoming a major source of revenue for the government. The difficulty here is that it is a departure from the original central purpose of the levy; it may prove difficult, in time, to discuss a rational development policy without admitting into consideration arguments for sustaining migrant worker employment for the sake of sustaining government revenue.


From the point of view of migrant workers, the levy imposes a disadvantage without necessarily fulfilling the intention of protecting the jobs and incomes of nationals. There is good reason to consider that the levy has the effect of depressing the salaries of migrant workers. Employers are obliged to pay the levy, but they may try to control their costs by holding down their employees’ salaries. Furthermore, the need to pay the levy – one that is rising in the cases of workers other than domestic workers – tempts employers to recover money from workers in the form of cuts of recruitment fees/kickbacks and work permit renewal fees while at the same time encouraging workers to look for illegal work where levies are not paid and workers and employers share the benefit of the saving. This qualifies as a specimen of “bad law”: it’s not a legal measure that was introduced from bad intentions, but it has the result of encouraging people who might otherwise be law-abiding to break the law.


Other proposals include:

1. Out of the levies collected, create a fund from which grants may be made to cover hospitalisation costs over the maximum amount currently insured. This would be to the advantage of both employers and employees removing any doubts about affordability.

2. Workers who have suffered an injury and have had their work passes cancelled, should be permitted to seek alternative employment once they are off medical leave and certified fit to resume work. This should alleviate the economic distress they suffer while waiting for resolution of their WICA claims.

3. There should be staffed desks at points of departure from Singapore just before passport control where workers would be asked to fill in a simple form to establish whether they had any issues with their employers that had not been resolved before their departure. This way workers who have had no opportunity to seek redress while in Singapore can be identified and have their cases dealt with.

4. Better provision of accommodation is needed. Whilst their stays might be temporary, the solutions and infrastructure we have to accommodate them cannot be seen as such. We should see them as colleagues with an equal stake to locals in a company, and very much part of the social and economic landscape.

5. Foreign domestic workers should be allowed to live outside of their employers’ homes. This addresses the domestic workers’ need for privacy and space away from their employers. It also reduces the likelihood of overwork and abuse as there is a clear end to their working day and they have the opportunity to seek advice or help if needed.

download_reportThe full report in pdf format (613 KB) can be downloaded by clicking the icon at left.