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Fairer pay for migrant workers, NGO urges NWC

A letter to the National Wages Council by Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

The Secretary
National Wages Council
c/o Labour Relations Department
Level 6-01 Ministry of Manpower
18 Havelock Road
Singapore 059764

Dear NWC,

As a society concerned with the well-being of migrant workers in Singapore, Transient Workers Count Too wishes to appeal to you to give consideration to the raising of salaries in the lowest paid sectors of the economy, where migrant workers are concentrated.

Salaries of most work permit holders have failed to keep pace with rising costs, including the cost of placement, since the end of the last century. While efforts have been made to raise the skill levels of local low-paid workers so that they qualify for posts carry improved salaries, migrant workers have tended to be left behind.

This is evidently to their disadvantage, but also to that of the overall Singaporean economy. Improved pay levels would increase the incentive for workers to sign up again after their first placement for work in Singapore, and so the country would gain greater benefit from their enhanced skill levels, instead of seeing a large proportion go elsewhere at the end of their contracts and needing to replace them with inexperienced new workers.

In the shipyard and construction sectors, hours are often long and the work is hard and hazardous, despite serious efforts to raise safety standards, and yet most workers are paid $2-$4 an hour. This is inadequate compensation for their work.

It may be that the council would consider domestic workers salaries as being beyond its purview, in the informal sector. We hope not; what other body concerned with salaries will speak up for them otherwise? Most domestic workers are at present paid between $300 and $400 a month. The pay of a worker with no day off and a salary of $350 therefore works out at $11.67 a day. Many work long hours; for a 15 hour day, this would mean a worker being paid 78 cents an hour.

In view of the exceptionally low pay of domestic workers and their limited bargaining power, we believe that the introduction of a minimum wage (if necessary from a policy viewpoint, specifically limited to domestic workers as a special case) would be an effective means of redressing this situation. We note that the Philippines is seeking to establish an internationally accepted minimum monthly salary for its nationals of US$400 and suggest that this might be considered as a good starting point for considering its level.

The government has highlighted the need for enhanced productivity in Singapore's economy. Reducing the level of turnover among migrant workers through improving salary levels could be one strong component element in the drive for improved productivity. Even if current efforts to curb recruitment, allied to a reduction in demand from the construction sector, produce a stabilisation or drop in migrant worker numbers, it is unlikely to radically alter the high level of migrant worker participation in Singapore's economy. A long term relationship between migrant workers and Singapore society will develop more favourably for all concerned if locals and foreign workers are made to feel that they share a common interest in Singapore's rising prosperity, reflected in enhanced pay levels, rather than being competitors who can only gain at each other's expense.

Yours sincerely,

John Gee

President

Transient Workers Count Too