Meet Lovelu (L) and Lemon (R), two of the many migrant workers who came to TWC2 in April after not having been paid the salaries.

Photographs by Nguyen Phi Yen, from an evening in April 2018

Every weekday evening, volunteers with Transient Workers Count Too are there on the streets in front of our meal stations. It’s warm and humid, but we’re there because we want to make it easy for foreign workers to approach us if they need help.

Five men walk up to us. “Excuse me, can we talk to you a little bit?” they ask Alex, one of the most experienced volunteers with TWC2.

“Sure, sit down,” he says. Beside him are two younger volunteers, who will learn from him tonight how to help newcomers.

The men are employees of San Tong Engineering Pte Ltd. They begin by telling us that they’ve not been paid their salaries for three to five months. Besides these five who came tonight, there are 13 more from the same company with similar problems.

A junior volunteer asks to see their identity documents, in order to register them into TWC2’s system.

But first, we need to register them into TWC2’s database. A junior volunteer records key details from their identity documents, and takes down brief facts about the problem they’re facing. The men are also asked to read a card stating, in their native language, why we are recording their personal information and how we will use or protect that information. They sign on the registration form to indicate their consent.

New policies adopted by MOM after years of advocacy by TWC2 now allow workers with salary disputes to look for temporary jobs while their cases are ongoing. This is an improvement from the past when they remained jobless and destitute for as long as their cases remain unresolved. The financial desperation this resulted in led many workers to give up on pursuing their rightful claims. However, even under the new policy, being allowed to look for a temporary job does not mean they will be able to find one. The success rate is not as good as it can be.

Most workers have little idea what to do after lodging complaints at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Partly because of language limitations, they mostly do not know to proceed. This is where TWC2 comes in. We advise them what lies ahead — the complex bureaucratic process is not good news — and what they need to do to prepare their cases. The easiest way to do this is to show them a video in their own language.

(L-R) Suresh, Krishnan and Ravindran watch an instructional video prepared by TWC2. It gives them a preliminary overview of the salary claim process and the evidence they will need to show. These videos, in their native languages, are available on Youtube for easy access.

Once the initial briefing is done, they are referred to TWC2’s main office at Beach Road, where our social work team is based.

We have hundreds of workers coming on a typical night, so there isn’t time to provide a lengthy consultation for any of them. Instead, we ask them to visit our main office where our social work staff are stationed. There, their cases will be examined in greater detail and with more privacy. The men get a form with a simple map on the reverse side, enabling them to find our location easily.

That done, the junior volunteers issue them their “makan cards” — a monthly card that entitles them to free meals with TWC2’s Cuff Road Project. Until they get new jobs — which may take a while if at all they’re successful, TWC2 tries to help them with daily needs such as food.

Ravindran signs into a book, indicating that he’s taking a meal from us this evening.

With the makan card in hand, they go up to the meals desk. After signing into a book, each man gets a token which he can exchange for a free meal at nominated restaurants.

In the background of the next photo is a long queue of men collecting their dinner.

While the San Tong men are being helped by Alex and the junior volunteers sitting with him, other senior volunteers Randy (seated, middle) and Debbie (seated, R) talk to other workers with problems.

A long and difficult journey for justice lies ahead, but at least for our worker friends, today ends with a warm and filling meal.