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TOC focus week: Young Singaporeans reach out to migrant workers

From Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

Migrants rights group, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) marked International Migrants Day, which falls on 18th December each year, with a celebratory high tea attended by 120 young migrant workers and their counterpart Singaporeans. International Migrants Day commemorates the signing of the Migrant Workers Convention at the United Nations in 1990.

A day planned by young people who work or volunteer with TWC2, the event hosted about eighty migrant workers in the construction and service sectors. Various groups of migrant workers put up a series of performances, including traditional dances by Filipina and Indonesian domestic worker support groups alongside three Singaporean bands who contributed their time for free.

One of the bands, a percussion ensemble from a local Institute of Technical Education, electrified the crowd. With a collection of about ten drums of various types, the band, Soul Percussion, put on a stomping half hour set which had guests dancing in the aisles.

Sarah Sidek, 19, an NUS undergraduate, said she did not know much about International Migrants’ Day in Singapore, “I would not have thought of the workers participating as performers.” This is Sarah’s first time attending an IMD event as a volunteer. Sarah feels that this experience gave her the impulse to help workers more, “I can relate to them as a young person because they are here working to earn money for their family back home and I know how tough this can be for them.”

24 year-old university student, Joses Kuan, signed up as a TWC2 volunteer because he believed in the cause and the Migrant Workers Convention. He just completed the charity’s annual twelve-week long volunteer training programme. He was delighted to see a different side to the workers, “It’s nice to see workers have a day off and let their hair down away from the usual settings where I usually see them.”

Ong Yanchun, 28, a researcher, said the one thing that struck her about IMD was the fact that migrant workers are youths too, “They are not just the construction labourers or shipyard workers or domestic workers holding back-breaking jobs to support their families at home. They too have talent, and aspirations to fulfill. And yes, they need their social lives as well! I wonder what could be done to provide the young migrants with more opportunities to rest and relax as well as take part in social and cultural activities while they work here.”

The Migrant Workers Convention sets out minimum standards for employment and civil and political standards for migrants. Singapore is not a signatory to the Convention. During this year, the International Labour Organisation’s annual Conference debated the development of a Domestic Workers’ Convention, which will be re-addressed at their conference next year. TWC2 and other NGOs concerned with migrants rights intend to lobby strongly for Singapore to support a Domestic Workers Convention and ratify the Migrants Convention.

Guest-of-honour Ms. Encarnacion B. Montales, 66 who was once a young foreign domestic worker and now handles casework with the Filipino Embassy, said, “The protection of migrants in this globalized world still does not cover lower skilled workers, but with this [Migrants] Convention, I do believe that there are possibilities to improve.”

Learn more about TWc2 here.