Migrant workers come to Singapore in search of better jobs. For a typical migrant worker in Singapore, however, sustaining a steady career is not easy. Migrant workers are likely to experience instability. The industries that a large number of migrant workers work in — the construction and marine sectors — are unusually cyclical; when one project or contract is completed, employers may lay workers off instead of keeping them on the payroll. Coupled with that, changing employers often involves having to pay large amounts to middlemen, money they may not have unless they are able to borrow. In fact, many workers start on a new job already highly indebted. How long they are able to say on a job thus has a huge impact on their financial security and their ability to provide for their families.

While there are some policies in place to prevent abuse of migrant workers, there are not many existing protections to prevent exploitation at the hands of the employer. Despite some of the policies in place, they are still in a precarious position at work. This study attempts to uncover the overall trends in job experiences of migrant workers in Singapore.

This study — whose working title was Job Longevity Survey — was done via an online survey of the economics and job duration of work permit holders in Singapore, targeting Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers in the construction, marine, and process sectors. The survey was disseminated online in three languages: English, Bengali, and Tamil. Our work focused on the following areas:

  • The workers’ employment tenure and extent of turnover
  • Evolution of salary during the period of employment in Singapore
  • Recruitment fees paid to come to Singapore

Some of our findings are as follows:

  • We found that less than one-third of the respondents are currently working in their first job. In contrast, the 2016 survey found that two-thirds of respondents were in their first job. The significance of this is not immediately obvious, but it is correlated with the surge of new arrivals in the years just before 2016, whereas since then, brand new workers have been far fewer coming into Singapore.
  • More than 40% of respondents have worked for three or more companies, and about two-thirds have worked for two or more companies since their arrival.
  • In general, Bangladeshi respondents have worked at more companies than Indian respondents. This is to say that they changed companies more frequently than their Indian counterparts; though we need to be careful ot to assume that the change was voluntary.
  • The starting basic salary of respondents adjusted for Consumer Price Index has decreased gradually from the cohort who arrived in 2000 to the most recent cohort.
  • Compared to the 2016 survey, the mean basic salary increment for Bangladeshi and Indian respondents in the 2021 survey is slightly higher.
  • In terms of recruitment fees, Bangladeshi respondents reported higher median recruitment fees at $6,000 compared to Indian respondents, who paid a median recruitment fee of $2,000. Recruitment fees paid have been rising over the years.

The full report in pdf format can be downloaded by clicking on the icon at right.