A letter by Debbie Fordyce of TWC2 was published in the print section of the Straits Times 17 July 2014.  It was a follow-on to a letter by Migrant Workers’ Centre, which in turn was a response to an article by Radha Basu in the Sunday Times of 6 July.

Why foreign workers are reluctant to raise pay issues

The Migrant Workers’ Centre made several critical points about fairness for migrant workers (“Greater protection and care for migrant workers needed”; last Saturday).

The recruitment process is particularly arduous for workers in the construction and marine sectors, and charges from agents, middlemen and training centres often come up to more than a year’s salary.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), other non-governmental organisations and the Ministry of Manpower would like these inflated and unnecessary charges to be eliminated, but recognise the difficulty in achieving that.

Salary issues, in comparison, should be easier to manage as the process takes place in Singapore.

Time cards and itemised payslips would help workers calculate their correct salary, and electronic transfers would help eliminate illegal deductions and kickbacks.

A large number of men come to TWC2 with salary complaints, but an even larger number are reluctant to raise the issue of unpaid or underpaid salaries, for fear of losing their jobs.

A salary claim typically means many months on a special pass, when the man is not permitted to work, and repatriation when the case is settled.

When the employer makes repeated promises to pay at the end of “this month, next month or after the project is finished”, the worker would prefer to wait in the hope of collecting what he is owed, rather than raise the issue, accept an uncertain amount and lose his job.

If he makes a salary complaint within a year of starting the job, he is likely to return home still heavily in debt.

Migrant workers often assume that a two-year work permit guarantees them two years of work, and that work permits can be extended for up to 18 years.

Those with salary issues are almost certain to be sent home at the completion of the investigation, however much they paid to obtain the job.

The guaranteed option of a job transfer without kickbacks and clawbacks would reduce the precarious nature of working in Singapore, and might begin to weed out the companies that rely on kickbacks and deductions to survive.

Deborah Fordyce (Ms)
Executive committee member
Transient Workers Count Too

12 July 2014

Greater protection and care for migrant workers needed

The Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) is pleased that issues concerning the protection and welfare of migrant workers were highlighted in the article (“Give foreign workers a fair deal”; Sunday).

Practices of errant overseas employment agents have been a long-term challenge for the Government and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We agree that international bilateral solutions should be pursued by the Government to help alleviate the situation, but believe this should be complemented by other measures to make more impactful progress towards eradicating this problem.

First, we need to ensure that work permit holders’ contracts have key employment terms to prevent agents from using unfair or deceptive clauses to cheat migrant workers, which the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has agreed to earlier this year.

Second, we need more employment education for migrant workers before they leave their home countries.

From our experience with migrant workers, we found that many are unaware of their rights. So we recently partnered MOM to produce a pre-departure video to educate them on unfair and illegal agency practices, social and cultural norms, employment rights and help channels.

Giving them this information in their native languages before they leave will give them a greater chance of recovering inflated charges they have paid under the laws and legal systems of their own countries.

The bulk of migrant workers we help come to us with salary-related issues. The process for claiming salary arrears requires them to provide evidence in the form of documents like payslips, which is difficult as the issuance of such documents is not widespread.

The MWC has been advocating hard for migrant workers’ salaries to be paid through electronic means, to act as proof of payment. While we are encouraged that the MOM has said it is exploring this, we remain concerned about how long it will take to roll out this urgently needed protection for migrant workers. The most critical gap that needs closure is the migrant workers’ inability to claim their rightful salaries due to lack of evidence, which the system does not compel employers to provide them with.

The MWC believes the protection and care of migrant workers is an issue of great importance to Singapore. We call on the Government, NGOs, employers and Singaporeans to make an effort to enhance the way we treat, protect and care for migrant workers. Let us send a clear signal that Singapore cares for, recognises and values every worker.

Yeo Guat Kwang
Migrant Workers’ Centre