Migrant Rights Groups Urge Greater Efforts to Assist Foreign Workers Affected by the Economic Downturn
We would like to commend the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for the actions that they have taken to bring Tipper Corp, Gates Offshore Pte Ltd, Goldrich Venture Pte Ltd, S1 Engineering and UPNB Engineering Pte Ltd to task for the ill-treatment and exploitation of almost 1000 workers under their employment.
From the cases that we have handled since the economic downturn started, we have noticed that many foreign workers, particularly those in the marine sector, have been badly hit. In the past four months alone, TWC2 has met with 800 workers employed by several companies in the marine sector who have not had access to work since being brought into Singapore or have been abandoned by their employers and sub-contractors and have not been paid their due salaries. Similarly, since the middle of 2008, HOME has seen up to 300 shipyard workers who were out of work and not paid their due wages. These workers also complained of poor housing, lack of food and neglect by their employers when they were ill. Many did not have money to see the doctor when they were in need of medical attention.
While welcoming MOM's measures to address the problems of the Tipper Corp workers, we urge the Ministry to take additional steps to ensure that these workers, and other foreign workers who are similarly affected by the economic downturn, be adequately compensated.
Laudably, MOM has allowed the workers to seek a change of employer, but this will be difficult given the scarcity of jobs available in the marine sector. Moreover, we have seen many cases of workers who have not been given work or only given sporadic work in Singapore and who are compensated with an amount well below the full wages due to them. For example, it is not uncommon for the workers to be compensated with only half of their wages for the days on which they have had no access to work. In addition, during the resolution period, workers continue to be charged the full costs of food provided to them, which can run up to $130 per month. This can result in situations where workers who have been in Singapore for five months without access to work and who have been promised $17 per day (excluding overtime) return home with only $310 in their pockets instead of $1390. This is grossly unfair given that it is not the fault of the worker that he had no access to employment. These are workers who have entered the country legally and were granted an entitlement to work under MOM policies.
Many of these foreign workers pay up to SGD10,000 to find work in Singapore. Being shortchanged of their wages may tempt these workers to overstay and work illegally, which would make them vulnerable to further exploitation. The economic recession might also lead to an increase in labour trafficking: unscrupulous employment agents, in collaboration with their counterparts in Singapore, may dupe workers into believing there are sufficient jobs for them in Singapore, when there may be none at all, just to profit from the exorbitant recruitment fees charged to these workers.
Acknowledging these problems, we would like to propose the following:
1. Foreign workers who have lost their jobs and have not had access to employment through no fault of their own, including those affected by the actions of Tipper Corp, Gates Offshore Pte Ltd, Goldrich Venture Pte Ltd, S1 Engineering Pte Ltd and UPNB Engineering Pte Ltd, should also be compensated for the remaining periods of the validity of their work permits in addition to the full wages due to them for the period they are in Singapore. If the employer does not have enough resources, the money can be taken from the levies that the employers have paid for each worker under their employ.
2. As a deterrent, MOM should revise the penalties for failure to pay wages on time. Currently, employers who are guilty of such an offence face a maximum fine of $5,000 or up to six month’s jail or both for each case. This penalty should be revised and be at least on par with the penalty for non-payment of the levy which is a maximum fine of $15,000, jail for up to a year or both for each case. In addition to the fine and jail sentence, the employer should also be made to pay the full wages due to the worker.
3. MOM should be more stringent and rigorous in approving the applications of all work permits. With the current economic climate, the likelihood of foreign workers being laid off and repatriated is high: this will have serious consequences for the livelihood of these workers and their families. In addition to proving that they have sufficient projects as currently stipulated by MOM, main contractors and sub contractors must also be required to produce documentary proof that they have sufficient resources to pay workers adequately, on time, and have secured decent and government-approved accommodation.
4. MOM should work with the governments of sending countries to set up a mechanism to monitor the recruitment channels of their respective countries and in Singapore. This is to ensure that workers are not overcharged or duped by labour agents. There is a need for all governments concerned to do more to try to inform workers of the charges and fees that they might be legitimately be expected to pay as a result of the process of recruitment and placement.
5. MOM should introduce measures to conduct exit interviews at immigration points to curb cases of forced repatriation by employers who resort to this measure to evade their responsibilities in the upkeep, maintenance and well-being of workers.
6. NTUC affiliates should boost their recruitment of foreign workers so that in the event of a layoff, these workers will be better protected. More attention should be paid to the unionisation of workers in small and medium enterprises. Workers in SMEs are especially vulnerable since it is such businesses that often find it more difficult to weather the effects of an economic recession.
For more information, please contact:
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)
5001, Beach Road
#06-27, Golden Mile Complex
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (H.O.M.E)
304 Orchard Road #06-22 Lucky Plaza