Like most people, migrant workers focus on working for a better life, and do not go about expecting misfortune to befall them. So, when it does, whether in the form of an injury, tardy salary payments or abusive employer, it often catches them unprepared. Many have no idea what their rights are, or what avenues of help are available.
An important part of Transient Workers Count Too’s assistance to migrant workers springs from the advice and case follow-up provided by our social workers and trained volunteers. This part of our programme is named “Social Worker Always There”, or SWAT for short.
A social worker cracks a joke to put his clients at ease
Common questions workers bring to us include:
“I haven’t been paid for more than three months; what remedies are available?”
“I was injured this morning and the pain is getting worse, but my supervisor says to rest in the dormitory. He is not sending me to a hospital. What should I do?”
“I was hired as a welder, but my employer wants me to work for another company as a general worker. Is this legal?”
“I’ve had fever for three days and the doctor gave me medical leave for a week. Now my boss says he’s cancelling my work permit and meanwhile I am being confined to the store-room with two guards outside, ready to take me to the airport anytime. How can I get out of this situation?”
Or a domestic worker might call and say to us:
“My employer keeps shouting at me and burned me with a cigarette butt a few times, and I can’t stand it any more. I have asked to resign, but she refuses to release me. What can I do?”
To have somebody give a prompt and helpful answer to such cries for help makes a huge difference to workers.
Not all migrant workers want intensive help. Some have more self-confidence or their cases are relatively straightforward. Giving due respect to their agency and autonomy, TWC2 caseworkers, interns and volunteers will calibrate our assistance accordingly.
Interns and volunteers assist with casework too under the supervision of our social workers
Generally speaking, engagement with clients (migrant workers) can be classified into three broad categories:
Information and Referral (I&R) represents the first contact, usually by phone (sometimes as walk-ins), and we have a brief discussion of the problems the client is facing. We provide information and explain the options available to him. We also lay out the pros and cons of each option. If the case is such that the client may need the help of another agency, we tell him where to go. Typically, the client wants to think about his options first, or is able to go to that other agency on his own to seek help.
Intervention is the term we use to describe a situation where TWC2 extends help to a client to a degree greater than a brief conversation (as in I&R). Intervention comes in various forms, e.g.
- we write emails to other agencies on his or her behalf;
- we accompany the person to the hospital or to the police station;
- we fork out some money to help pay for medical or dental treatment;
- we give out some pocket money so he can take the bus to go to hospital, or stay in contact with his family;
- we sign him up for our free meals programme.
Generally, intervention is resource-sensitive. Money, time, and the availability of volunteers set limits on what we can do.
When a social worker or trained volunteer tracks a case and spends several sessions advising a worker, it constitutes a managed case. We do this for cases that are complicated or if they are up against unreasonable employers or an intractable bureaucracy.
With medical cases, we help communicate with doctors to better understand the prognosis or needed treatment, and explain the same to workers. We remain there for the patient when he or she undergoes surgery or rehabilitation.
With salary cases, we assist in computing the amount owed, we compile the evidence the client needs to press his or her case and we follow up on each stage of the dispute resolution process to conclusion.
Case management is very resource-intensive and the needs far exceed our means. But having a social worker monitor a case ensures that all options are explored and resolved as expeditiously as possible.
Our social workers organise a monthly Outreach day — typically a Sunday when workers are mostly off work — in which they and many volunteers fan out to areas where migrant workers are likely to spend their free time. We hand out fliers to inform workers of their rights and options, and if there are any simple questions, we provide brief answers on the spot.
From time to time, we encounter more serious cases. Workers may be surprised that at last there is somebody to talk to about a problem they’ve kept within themselves for some time. We advise them to come down to our office on another day with all their relevant papers so that a more detailed look can be made into whatever problem they have.
Our social worker (centre) speaks with migrant workers during an outreach
Our social worker speaks with domestic workers during an outreach
Volunteers distribute flyers and tell workers about TWC2
A volunteer distributes flyers during outreach
Workers pick up TWC2 leaflets from our booth at a roadshow near their dormitories