By Sheena Kanwar, Executive Director of Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME)

Some of us cry in silence,
Some float in the waters of our tears.
Broker, agent all together;
Give trouble to ones living abroad,
Some spend lives in the cell.
Some are pushed into the sea
How it pains my heart!
Some legally, some illegally living abroad.
For what little price I have sold my youth!

~ Sohag, Bangladeshi worker. Translated from his Bengali poem One Who’s Living Abroad

In a study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), migrant workers account for 150.3million of the world’s approximately 232 million migrants (ILO Global Estimates on Migrant Workers, Dec 2015).  As we honour migrant workers and their contributions today, we also want to remember their sacrifices. Many leave their families behind in search of decent employment and a better future for themselves and their loved ones.

However, the grim reality is that many migrant workers face exploitation, discrimination and unjust treatment, from their recruitment process in the home country to their job placement in the destination country. The issues faced by migrants globally are not new and are often intertwined: hefty recruitment fees, absence of a proper contract, withholding of personal documents, low or unpaid wages, no rest days, lack of access to healthcare, physical and psychological abuse – these are just some of the common issues.

As one of the major destination countries, Singapore is a popular choice for migrant workers. While measures have been introduced in recent years to better protect the rights of migrant workers, more can be done by state and non-state actors to uphold international labour standards for a more sustainable future.

HOME continues to call for foreign domestic workers (FDW) to be covered under the Employment Act. We urge the State to ratify the landmark ILO C189 Decent Work for Domestic Workers which ensures the provision of basic labour rights to workers who care for our families and households.

Basic rights that we take for granted such as statutory holidays, paid leave, medical and annual leave continue to be denied to FDWs here. While the day-off has been legislated, a majority of FDWs still do not enjoy a weekly day-off. It is imperative that this vulnerable segment of migrants be accorded basic rights as they continue to be recruited in great numbers for the next 10 to 30 years to fill caregiving roles in our ageing society. A White Paper released by the State in 2012 had projected that 50,000 more domestic workers will be recruited by 2030.

As we enter the 26th year of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, we also call on the State to ratify the convention and put it into effect. The lack of protection often means that their families, entirely dependent on their income for survival, suffer the most when problems arise.

Let’s make it our collective duty to address and combat the exploitation of migrant workers in all sectors including the construction, marine and agricultural and fishing industries. As recruitment fees continue to soar for the most vulnerable workers, there is an urgent need to look into and adopt fairer recruitment practices as spelt out in ILO’s Fair Recruitment Initiative.

In his International Migrants Day 2015 message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a commitment to “coherent, comprehensive and human-rights based responses guided by international law and standards and a shared resolve to leave no one behind”. As we celebrate International Migrants Day, let us all work together to recognise and implement core international human rights and labour rights, and restore long overdue dignity to migrant workers and their families.

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