Solidarity for Migrant Workers’ report to the UN Universal Periodic Review

Solidarity for Migrant Workers is a coalition of NGOs (HOME1, TWC22 and Migrant Voices) promoting the rights of the migrant community in Singapore. Below are key points of the 10-page long submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review. You can download the full report here.


Over 30% of the workforce consists of migrants, mostly in low-paid occupations. In December 2009, it was reported that there were 856,000 migrants in low or semi-skilled manual jobs. This includes 196,000 women employed as live-in domestic workers.This large migrant workforce is demand-driven and bridges the gap between a limited pool of local labour and a high rate of employment.

Equality and non-discrimination
9. Work permit holders face the greatest discrimination with regards to rights to family and are subject to the following restrictions:
a. They may not bring family members with them;
b. They need approval from the Ministry of Manpower before marriage to a Singapore
citizen or permanent resident;
c. They are not allowed to become pregnant or give birth in Singapore.

Right to life, liberty and security of the person

For several migration offences migrants may be jailed and/or caned. NGOs are aware of several cases where migrants including trafficked victims have been caned for immigration and other offences.
Administration of justice

Even though there are legal mechanisms for migrant workers to seek redress for claims, significant challenges exist when they do so.

  • Migrant workers abused by their employer or labour recruiter may face difficulties in having their complaints examined.Employers may deliberately not give to workers, or fail to keep important employment records such as contracts, salary slips and time cards. As a result, workers find it difficult to substantiate claims for employment related abuses with the authorities.
  • Employers can unilaterally cancel a work permit and repatriate the worker as soon as they learn that a complaint has been filed, or to prevent a complaint from being filed. Employers can also prevent an employee from getting a new employer by refusing to cancel the existing work permit.
  • Workers who have successfully lodged a claim may experience difficulty surviving day-to- day since it can take up to several months for a complaint or case to be resolved.Workers with salary related claims who take their complaints to the Labour Court often face a significant barrier in enforcing court orders when the errant employer does not comply with the order. Enforcement of these orders is a costly and protracted process.

Freedom of movement

  • Freedom of movement is not upheld for migrant workers mainly because of implications related to the security bond. The fear of losing the security bond has led to employers restricting their movements and confiscating their passports.
  • Domestic workers may suffer enforced confinement and restricted communication. Some employers forbid workers to go out alone and limit opportunities for them to use the phone, speak to their families and friends, or write letters.
  • Although the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and the Passports Act forbid an employer from holding onto a worker‟s identity documents, the majority of employers hold their employees‟ passports and work permit cards, and the Government rarely penalises such practices.
  • There are numerous reports from migrant workers of intimidation and forced repatriation of workers by repatriation companies hired by employers.Wrongful confinement is an offence under the Penal Code, but local reports indicate a lack of enforcement.

Freedom of religion or belief, expression, association and peaceful assembly, and right to participate in public and political life

  • Domestic workers who are not provided a day off are unable to attend religious worship. They have also reported being forbidden by their employers from praying or fasting.
  • The formation of associations or societies for migrant workers to promote their rights is highly restricted due to regulations that stipulate that the governing bodies of such associations should have Singapore citizens as the majority.

Right to work and to just and favourable conditions of work

  • The most common violations suffered by workers were: well-being violations such as inadequate food or accommodation (43%); psychological abuse (30%) and non-payment of salary (14%).
  • Domestic workers, the vast majority of whom are foreigners, are excluded from the Employment Act, which specifies the minimum terms and conditions of employment for rest days, hours of work, overtime entitlements, annual leave and medical leave. They are also excluded from the Work Injury Compensation Act.
  • It is not illegal for a domestic worker to work for 365 days a year without a single day off.
  • Migrant workers in the domestic and construction sectors require permission from their current employer to change employers. Employers have the power to repatriate, or hold on to a worker at any time during the contract. Workers may not be informed of the termination of their work permits until just before they are sent home. 

Right to social security and to an adequate standard of living

  • The psycho-social health of migrant domestic workers suffer due to adjustment problems, work pressure, financial debt and poor working conditions.
  • Migrant workers are not provided any social security plans.
  • The Government no longer subsidizes medical care for migrants.
  • It is not uncommon for foreign workers to live in sub-standard accommodation. Many of
    them have been found to sleep in cramped, unhygienic, and poorly ventilated living quarters  In 2008, the government said that 80,000 to 100,000 migrant workers did not have proper accommodation, or were living in illegal quarters.
  • Employers should provide migrant domestic workers with adequate food. However, HOME and TWC2 have seen cases where they are denied food or given left-overs because of employers‟ neglect or as punishment for mistakes made at work.

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

  • Singapore’s laws do not address human trafficking adequately and under existing regulations trafficked people may be treated as offenders for violation of immigration laws rather than victims.
  • Victims of forced labour and trafficking receive limited protection from the Singaporean authorities.
  • There are no domestic laws providing for the granting of refugee status.