By: Kumaran Pillai, Terry Xu & Leo Khaw

Chen (not her real name) paid S$3600 of her savings to an agent in promise of more money, better life and to escape from the communist regime of China. But now, she has found herself only the short end of the stick. She works for a meagre S$500 a month as a factory hand in Panasonic Singapore which is located in suburban Bedok. There seems to be an awful regret that she has spent her money on a lousy deal. She has learnt the hard way that her life isn’t any better in democratic Singapore either.

Similar to those in the bottom 20% of our general population here, her life in Singapore is down to mere subsistence levels. Her income of S$500 is insufficient to meet her monthly expenditure. She has worked out a frugal budget though, of $300 for food, $250 for rent and S$60 for transportation, which is $110 more than her wage.  To supplement her income, her employer has “generously” given out, in the past, additional allowance of S$150 for housing and S$30 for transportation. With a stipend of S$680, her head is just barely above water.

She works hard for the money

Chen has a three year old child and her two elderly parents to support back at home. The $60 surplus is inadequate to meet her total financial needs. She needs to work overtime.

And so, she works up to 100 hours in overtime in order to make about S$1200 a month. This is on top of the 44 hour work week, and she can end up working as many as 72 hours in a typical workweek. There are times when she does double shifts of up to sixteen hours at a stretch to meet the production targets set by the company. Nowadays, this happens at least four times a month.

The Ministry of Manpower guidelines for overtime states, “An employee can be required to work up to 12 hours a day if the employee gives his consent in writing” (here). Chen says that the workers did not give their consent in writing. The employment contract is in English, but according to Chen, no translation was made available for the Mandarin speaking workers.

Chen however, is not overly concerned about the long working hours, she is concerned that the 72 hour limit is too low and that 100 hours of overtime hours are insufficient for her to earn the extras. She is willing to work all her waking hours to make as much as she can. 

She is hopeful that hard work and determination can see her through all the hardships. She is hopeful that someday she’ll be able to break out of her poverty cycle. But for now, hope is all she has got.

Chen’s passage to Singapore

Her job agent in Hubei, China made her many promises. He told her that her she could save as much as $1200 a month and that she could become rich in no time if she were to do overtime in Singapore. So, she was asked to buy her own airline ticket and asked to pay S$3600 as agency fees before her passage to Singapore.

Chen was given a contract in Mandarin which said that she was not forced or coerced into signing it and she was going to Singapore on her own free will. She was not aware of her actual employment terms until she started work in Singapore. In fact, her current employment contract with Panasonic is in English and the company has yet to give her a Chinese translation.

When asked if she would consider coming here again, she hesitantly said in Mandarin, “I have to work close to half a year just to earn back the agent fees, of course I would think twice."

Panasonic Singapore Vs Huawel China

There were 14 others we spoke to, who had similar stories to tell. One university graduate lamented about how he was short-changed. One said that China was better, and another said that things were too expensive here. But he also said the people here were cultured and polite.

The university graduate said that Huawei China paid about S$700 – S$800 as basic pay and he could easily make up to $2000 per month doing a similar job in China. He came here thinking that he could land a white collar job and was hoping to make about $3000 a month.

Union warns employees not to speak up

The workers were warned by the Union not to speak-up, negotiate or “create trouble” for the management. They were also told that Singapore government had very strict laws and “action” would be taken against those who spoke up.

Some employees received a pay rise of S$1.00 when they became too “vocal.” Another worker received a more “generous” raise of S$7.00 after working eighteen months here. The workers feel, perhaps justifiably, that the company was merely mocking their requests for better pay.

Assembly work at Panasonic Singapore

We learnt from the workers that Panasonic Singapore does assembly of refrigerators and air-cons which are exported out of Singapore.

They speculated that Panasonic continued operating in Singapore despite the costs, because of labour laws that permitted exploitation of low wage earners and a favourable tax regime.

Is it beneath Singaporeans to work in factories?

Listening to the plight of these workers, it has become apparent to us that these low wage workers are sometimes preferred, because of the lack of support and backing from unions and the industry bodies in Singapore for such workers. A Singaporean worker, on the other hand would probably have better access, though limited and perfunctory, to unions in Singapore. 

An MP has said that most Singaporeans do not take these jobs because we Singaporeans are concerned about our dignity and often do not take up menial jobs as we do not want to lose face. Having seen the ruthless exploitation and the wages that Panasonic offers, it makes us wonder if the MP has lost touch with reality and if he seriously wants Singaporeans to work under these conditions.

The way forward

In another TOC article written by Jolovan Wham, “Exploitation of Migrant Workers = Exploitation of Low Wage Local Workers,” he has clearly shown how such exploitation can lead to depressed wage conditions in Singapore.

These foreign workers are taking a big risk by standing up and speaking up against their employer and our system.

Therein lies a lesson for Singaporeans – there are things that we can learn from them – that we will only be able to find solutions to our social ills by surfacing them in the right forums, by standing up against incompetency in whatever form it may be, and by being the agent of change.




You May Also Like


新加坡金融管理局(MAS)勒令,从今年9月10日起,严禁本地汇款公司提供借贷服务。 根据该局在昨日发出的通知,该禁令不会影响现有贷款,包括重组贷款和再融资贷款。 该局表示,将密切关注持照者进行的贷款活动,如有违例行为将果断采取行动。 去年10月,《海峡时报》报导本地一家在幸运广场经营的持照汇款公司Toast Me,“预支现款”(cash advance)给女佣,引起金管局关注。女佣借贷700新元,将被抽取10巴仙利息,而首次借钱还要扣除70元的费用。 一些业者表示,汇款公司主要功能乃是协助把钱财汇至海外,可能一些公司走漏洞,因为他们不属于律政部管制的持照借贷公司。 数据显示向持照借贷公司借钱的外籍人士,从2016年的7500人,跃升至2017年上半年的3万5000人。 为保护在本地工作的女佣和外籍人士,政府扩大借贷顶限,外国人的借贷顶限则为,年薪不超过1万元者最多只能借贷1500元;年薪介于1万元至2万元者,最多只能借贷3000元。这项限制可能使得一些接待者转而向非法管道借钱。 至于金管局发出的禁令,更早于将在明年生效的《支付服务法令》(Payment Services Act)。在该法下,严禁任何支付服务提供者如持照汇款公司,发放贷款于个人。…

原薪资千三元因疫情影响减半 社会及家庭发展部称已接触清洁老妇

社会及家庭发展部(MSF)针对日前网民分享一名清洁老妇境遇的贴文,作出澄清,指出老妇在阻断措施前,薪资约为1千300元,然而受到疫情冲击,生意量减少,雇主只得安排她从事四小时的兼职,薪资仅为675元(约每小时6.5元)。 该部表示目前审核这位老妇是否符合冠病疫情援助金,以便每月将获得500-800元的援助。 实则原贴文的网民Meng Shuen Koh强调,原本是受朋友问起,才把私人贴文分享,好让人们知道这老妇问题,以及让大家反思这个社会贫困者的困境。 不过他也与其他志工更深入了解,尽管老妇所言有些出入,但此事却让老妇引来不必要的焦点和舆论压力,再者老妇本身仍有病痛,不希望为她造成负担,而自己已是根据自己所被告知的讯息,希望能协助老妇。 日前,他分享这老妇准备搭地铁到圣淘沙去找洗碗工作,因为听闻该处的薪金比她目前在淡滨尼天地(Tampines Hub)的打扫和洗碗工来得高,令他感到痛心。 至于社会及家庭发展部则指出,目前老妇L女士和次子在五房式组屋同居,家里仍有帮佣,儿子还能照顾她三餐,惟老妇仍要工作维持个人开销,该部指昨日社会服务中心(SSO)人员找过她,以了解有何需要帮助。 不过,据此前的信息,老妇称因病痛卖掉房子,来支付医疗开销,也声称动了四次心脏大手术。 由于L女士是永久居民,她并不符合乐龄补贴或就业奖励。不过仍符合同舟共济补贴(solidarity payment),当局也会安排她的医疗开销。…

NTU student debunks fabricated news about himself, condemns how SPH publishes unconsented news

As the saga of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and an NTU student…