Activists and researchers working on issues related to migrant workers and their rights have expressed concern over a feature article in The Straits Times about Bangladeshi cleaners in public housing estates living in bin centres.

The Straits Times published “Life in the dumps” written by Aw Cheng Wei (with additional reporting by Toh Yong Chuan) on 18 July, revealing that a number of Bangladeshi workers the reporters had come across appeared to be living in the bin centres on HDB estates.

Although the workers declined to give the journalists their names for fear of reprisals, the paper ended up publishing photographs of the men in the bin centres, causing them to be clearly identifiable. The Straits Times also published the addresses of some of these bin centres.

“The reporter had indicated in the story the men had already expressed anxiety about losing their jobs and did not want to be identified, thus the men were cognizant of possible negative consequences and had already communicated this to the reporter,” labour rights researcher Stephanie Chok told TOC.

“If the workers have asked not be be identified, how can the Straits Times justify publishing their photos and addresses?” added sociologist Nicholas Harrigan.

Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), also told TOC that revealing the workers’ identities in such a way might result in those workers losing their livelihoods, and perhaps even lead to the men being repatriated.

“If no consent was sought, the ST journalist should have at least not revealed their faces and revealed where they live,” he said.

Another concern that activists had was the lack of context in the story: the article indicates that the workers had chosen to live in the bin centres, yet did little to really explain why such a choice was made.

“The story, an entire full-page spread, was singular in its focus, highlighting only the men’s living conditions, without considering other aspects of their exploitative working conditions and how these issues are interconnected,” Chok said.

The choice to live in a bin centre is, taken at face value, a bizarre one – who would actually want to live so close to the reeking fumes of trash and garbage?

A letter to The Straits Times forum by HOME said that many Bangladeshi workers had paid extremely high recruitment fees (from $8,000 – $12,000, if not more) to secure jobs in Singapore, only to earn as low as $400 a month cleaning and maintaining the HDB estates in which citizens live in relative comfort. This $400-a-month salary is even lower than the foreign workers’ levy that employers have to pay.

These low wages, combined by the high debt burden, often leads to men opting to living in the bin centres rather than having their salaries deducted by their employers for accommodation.

The long hours that such cleaners work – some take on 16-hours shifts – also makes it easier for them to rest and sleep in the bin centres in the estate, rather than travelling back and forth from dormitories in remote parts of Singapore. HOME said that they had also encountered situations in which the accommodation provided was over-crowded.

“The article portrays the workers as largely ‘choosing’ to live in the bin centers in order to save money. The obvious question the article fails to ask is: What type of existing living and working conditions would mean that workers think that living in a bin center is the ‘best’ option for them? What does this say about the living conditions provided by employers as an alternative to the bin centers? What does this say about the low rates of pay which the workers must be being paid if they can’t even afford to pay one or two hundred dollars to live in employer provided accommodation? The ‘choices’ these workers are making are highly constrained choices, often imposed by low pay, difficult working conditions, and inadequate alternative living arrangements,” Harrigan told TOC.

TOC sent questions to both Aw Cheng Wei and Toh Yong Chuan, but has so far not received a response.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

SPP’s Khan Osman Sulaiman questions the kind of jobs offered to S’poreans under SGUnited jobs package

Singapore People’s Party’s (SPP) Khan Osman Sulaiman on Wednesday (12 August) shared…

It’s untrue! Tan Jee Say did not gatecrash SPP’s National Day party

by: Ravi Philemon/ There are rumours circulating online that Presidential candidate Tan…

Filipino divers draw laughs but proud of representing country

A video of their dives has gone viral and attracted more than…

“怪”标题标签精神压力女佣 客工层层剥削   媒体视而不见

上月26日,《联合晚报》刊登一则25岁女佣闹跳楼的新闻。报导中描述事件发生在蔡厝港地区的组屋,指出这名女佣爬出八楼单位的窗外,站在墙檐,惊动拯救队人员到场,拯救企图自杀的女佣。 据该报导,记者采访女佣的雇主陈楚萍,后者称女佣名为卡斯罗,来自印尼,在六周前刚来工作,开工不到两天就出现怪异举动,常望着窗外发呆,且只喝水不进食。雇主告知记者,以为女佣还在适应新环境,也耐心教导她如何做家务。 女佣不谙英语,为此雇主以谷歌翻译和女佣沟通。“某次,她看见女佣连洗个碗都有气没力,好意提点女佣,岂料女佣竟趴在沙发上哭了一个多小时。雇主打电话向代理求助,沟通后女佣还是不开心,独自躲在房间角落里缀泣。” 事发当天只有20多岁的雇主儿子和女佣在家,女佣爬出窗外,儿子也尝试劝他入屋并马上报警。警员和民防队员到场,灾难拯救人员则攀绳而下从窗外把女佣就回屋内。惟女佣在企图自杀罪名下被捕。 该篇报导并未引述专业拯救人员或心理医生意见,但却打着:《怪女佣开工两天不进食  第六周竟闹跳楼》的标题,引起维权份子范国瀚不满,谴责该标题太刻薄,女佣面对的是精神压力,但是编辑却设误导性的标题,把她描述成神经古怪、没有理性之人。 “加深对精神患者刻板印象” “精神健康是重要的社会问题,这种故事只是进一步加深对精神衰弱患者的偏见和刻板印象。” 《联合早报》也被批评,以耸动标题来骗取读者阅读量,却对社会不同群体缺乏敏感度。 针对有网民评论,常常有女佣闹跳楼,谎称被“鬼上身”,欺瞒雇主以便能早点离开新加坡,范国瀚表示不认同,他认为这种说法并没有考虑到这些家庭女佣面对的情绪和心态,“是不是有无法跨越的苦难?他是不是精神上有很多压力,或者有不敢说出来的恐惧?” 他补充,遽下断语之前,媒体必须推究事理,而不是急于责怪工人。 长工时、不给假日,当女佣奴隶…