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Foreign workers: Friend or foe?

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By Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME)

Election rallies have started and as Singaporeans, we look forward to what the candidates in each party have to offer in their vision of a better country for all.

During this period, the various political parties have their respective agendas and messages to win the hearts of voters. Whether it is on nationhood, what it means to be a Singaporean, or focusing on hot-button issues like housing, education and jobs – our political parties will have robust discussions on a variety of issues.

We would like to appeal to all politicians to keep their campaigning free of xenophobic language. We acknowledge that immigration is an important national concern, but we should not blame our country’s problems on foreign workers.

While we do not deny that the huge inflow of migrant workers in our country has created unhappiness, our social problems are complex and multi-layered, which should not be attributed to their presence.

Economic exploitation and abuse affects workers of all nationalities and creating a ‘us vs them’ discourse will not address the root causes of marginalisation and disenfranchisement which many are experiencing. If Singaporeans are displaced from their jobs and suffer from low and stagnant wages, it is because we have created the conditions which allow them to be replaced through the exploitation of migrant workers. What we need are economic and social policies which do not worsen economic inequality for everyone regardless of their social status and identity. Progressive labour laws which are effectively and consistently enforced, and the establishment of independent trade unions are the measures we need to take if we want to make any significant headway in tackling these challenges.

We have much to thank our migrant workers for – whether it is in the building of our city, powering our economy or taking care of our loved ones. They are an integral part of Singaporean society. During big events such as the General Elections (GE), it is convenient to blame them for our country’s ills.

We would like to appeal to all political parties to not only stay away from such campaigning but to also think about bettering the situation of our migrant workers in Singapore. HOME has documented many of these issues in our position papers, research and stories which we have readily shared with both the mainstream and alternative media. For Singapore to be a truly progressive and inclusive society, we need to care for the weakest and most disenfranchised groups of people, and this includes the country’s one million low wage migrant workers.

This article was first published at HOME's website.