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Lack of funds threaten food aid project for migrant workers

Wong Chun Han

Hundreds of jobless migrant workers may go hungry as the food aid programme they depend upon could fold due to a lack of funds.

Some 450 men, forced out of work by injuries or non-payment of wages, are receiving free meals everyday from The Cuff Road Project to help them get by while they recover or seek legal redress.

But the progamme, which runs in Little India, could run out of money in a month’s time, forcing its closure.

Run by migrant worker welfare group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) in collaboration with nonprofit group ONE (SINGAPORE), the project is funded entirely by public donation and all the money are spent on food.

The project has recently been overwhelmed by a sharp increase in jobless workers seeking help, which “may be due to higher visibility of the programme among the migrant worker community,” TWC2 said in a statement.

“Alternatively, it could be because there are more men who are out-of-work and qualify for the programme,” it said, adding that a detailed study is not presently possible as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) does not release the relevant data.

The increase has lead to record spending by the project, draining its limited funds. In June, it spent an all-time high of $17,914 – nearly 80 per cent more than the average monthly expenditure in the first quarter of this year.

Most of the project’s beneficiaries are awaiting resolution of their complaints regarding the non-payment of their salaries, according to TWC2.

“Many are the victims of scams,” TWC2 president John Gee said in a statement. “Most of the men went deep into debt to come to Singapore, often selling their family homes to do so.”

While their complaints are processed by the MOM, Special Pass holders are not allowed to work unless they are detained by MOM as prosecution witnesses against employers, according to TWC2.

If they are called as witnesses, workers can seek employment under the Temporary Work Scheme, it said. For others, however, the processing could take a few months or even years. They thus depend on the goodwill of others for shelter and meals.

The project distributes at no charge to these workers breakfast and dinner on weekdays and lunch on Sundays, using meals provided by two Little India restaurants at $2.00 apiece.

“We aim to provide the men with meals in a safe clean environment, where they can eat with dignity,” ONE (SINGAPORE) president Vernetta Lopez said in a statement.

Volunteer project coordinator Debbie Fordyce said: “The Cuff Road Project provides men with food, but they’d rather be working…as long as their employers pay the wages that are due.”

The project, which came about in March 2008 after a fact-finding mission one midnight at Cuff Road by volunteers, has served over 100,000 meals to needy migrant workers to date.

It also allows the workers to socialise and provide them with help and advice on issues like healthcare and keeping up with their cases at the MOM.

There are currently 21 volunteers on the project, including some migrant workers who help with translation, advocacy and the provision of other support for their countrymen.

TWC2 is making an urgent appeal for funds to individuals and corporate bodies.

If you would like to make a contribution to this food aid programme, please make cheques payable to “Transient Workers Count Too” and write "for the Cuff Road Project" on the back.

Cheques can be mailed to TWC2’s postal address:

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

5001 Beach Road

Golden Mile Complex #06-27

Singapore 199588.

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Pictures from TWC2’s website.