Our social workers and volunteers regularly hear pleas for help from workers looking for new jobs after the old ones have ended, e.g. because of salary non-payment.
Late May 2020, TWC2 sent a letter to the Straits Times Forum hoping to add nuance to the debate about job security for migrant workers. As far as we know, it has not been published, and enough time has lapsed for us to carry the letter here instead.
29 May 2020
Dear Straits Times Forum,
While Mr Lawrence Wong’s statement (Coronavirus: Job security of migrant workers depends on employers, Straits Times, 29 May 2020) that the job security of migrant workers depends on employers is obviously true, it also misdirects the question that Singapore needs to ask.
The issue is not job security, but career security and its corollary, financial security for the migrant worker.
Pre-Covid, most workers, by TWC2’s observation, have to go home after losing their jobs with no assurance of getting another job in Singapore. Even if they find a vacancy, they typically have to pay thousands of dollars to recruiters within Singapore to secure the new job. Otherwise the employer with a new project might hire a fresh worker with no experience but willing to pay an even greater amount.
Md Asaduzzaman suffered five months of unpaid salary despite working lots of overtime. His employer owed him nearly $7,000. Once he filed a claim, he lost the job and his Work Permit was canclled. Now he is worried whether he’d be allowed to, or able to find a new one. And if recruiters were to ask for a huge amount in fees, where would he find the money?
This circular migration also makes it hard for Singapore to retain skills and experience, and thus to raise our productivity.
With Covid, circular migration poses a risk of importation of infection. If we demand a quarantine or testing prior to the worker starting his job after arrival, it imposes costs.
We have an opportunity right now to reform the system to serve both the worker’s interest as well as Singapore’s. We need to strongly incentivise re-hiring of migrant workers who are already here but facing redundancy and repatriation, and unless our economy demands it, we need to strongly dis-incentivise importation from abroad.
This way, workers stand a good chance of getting a new job after losing one, thus boosting their career security. Singapore gains through better skills retention.
The Ministry of Manpower has outlined a few measures that point in this direction, but they are relatively minor and limited by too many conditions. We suggest stronger measures such as a levy discount if a worker is rehired from the local pool of foreign workers.
We also need to combat illegal recruitment fees, which TWC2 has found to be widespread even within Singapore. Unless these exorbitant costs are greatly reduced or eliminated, workers would have to pay huge sums each time they change jobs.
Our migrant workers need to achieve not only career security, but also financial security for their migration to be successful.
Transient Workers Count Too