However ready we are to help workers in need, systemic improvement of the situation for migrant workers can only be achieved through advocacy. It is advocacy that leads to better policies and enlightened public opinion.
In Transient Workers Count Too’s experience, problems faced by migrant workers are multi-faceted and arise from several roots.
Poverty in the source countries and high rates of unemployment are among them; though unfortunately, they are not issues that TWC2 can directly address.
What is more troubling is that in Singapore there are observable gaps in laws and regulations, made worse by shortcomings in enforcement of those rules that exist. And when complaints are lodged by workers, administrative processes do not always operate smoothly towards fair resolution. TWC2 engages with policy-makers to highlight these gaps and propose solutions. Executive committee members and staff meet with officials from the Ministry of Manpower for frank discussions from time to time.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to view low-skilled labour as an economic commodity, which leads to a policy framework that does not give sufficient weight to the impact on and aspirations of individuals involved. There is also a subconscious tendency to see low-wage foreigners through the lens of security, resulting in harsher policies than warranted.
Equally important is the part played by social attitudes. No amount of regulation, however thorough, can cover all bases. Issues such as verbally abusive supervisors, disregard for safety, and lack of consideration for cultural differences may be hard to police on a day-to-day basis; their eradication depends on changing public attitudes.