Following the deaths of two Bangladeshi workers in a fire , and a commentary article by Straits Times journalist Toh Yong Chuan (7 April 2015), TWC2 president Noorashikin Abdul Rahman wrote to the editor to better focus the root causes of poor housing.  The letter was published on 17 April 2015.

Lower debt, raise job security for workers

I welcome the perceptive and forceful comments made by manpower correspondent Toh Yong Chuan  on the subject of migrant workers being crammed into premises where their lives are at risk should a fire break out (“Take action before more die in dorm fires”; April 7).

He makes some sensible comments on how the problem might be overcome.

However, two more issues need to be addressed: Reducing the amount of debt undertaken by migrant workers to secure work in Singapore and enhancing their job security, as money and job insecurities are the main reasons many migrant workers here put up with bad conditions of work and housing.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) has been keenly aware of male migrant workers’ accommodation problems for years.

In our experience, many workers are prepared to accept being housed in poor conditions, which makes preventing accidents, such as the recent fire in Geylang (“Two foreign workers die in pre-dawn Geylang fire”; April 4), much harder.

Since an employer can send a worker home without giving any reason or allowing the worker to seek alternative employment, many workers are afraid to complain either to their employer or to the authorities.

They will bear a lot before they complain.

The two Bangladeshi workers who died were relatively new to Singapore; one was reported to have arrived only in January.

Bangladeshi workers generally have to pay placement charges that are almost equal to a full year’s earnings; most take 16 to 17 months to pay off their debt.

The workers who died were very likely still paying down their placement costs.

This made for a toxic combination: The workers’ fear of deportation would have been amplified by their knowing that if sent home early in their placement, they and their families would be worse off than if they had never sought work abroad.

Dealing with these problems will empower migrant workers to speak up about bad conditions in general, including poor accommodation.

Without that, employers out to save money on accommodation and landlords out to exploit this, regardless of the human cost, will be able to take the cooperation of migrant workers in their own shabby treatment for granted.

Noorashikin Abdul Rahman (Dr)
Transient Workers Count Too

See also: Straits Times story and letters by regarding kickbacks to employers.