Jolovan Wham, a human right activist, wrote a response to the post written by Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong, saying that the posts about migrant workers that PM Lee has been written for so many times should be translated into concrete policies to make a difference in their lives, which his government is capable of doing but lack the political will.
On his Facebook page on Wednesday (5 January), PM Lee posted a picture of a migrant worker sitting under a tree by himself while staring at his cellphone.
Mr Lee wrote, “As we enjoy the festive days with friends and family, let us spare a thought for the foreign workers who have left their families behind to work in a distant land. They build our HDB flats and MRT lines, keep our roads clean and parks green, and take care of our young and elderly. They slog and save to support loved ones, but at least with the internet and cellphones they can keep in touch, and feel not quite so far away.”
In response, Mr Jolovan stated that there is so much talk of “appreciation.” However, advocacy, human rights and the promotion of justice continue to be marginalised activities.
Here is what he wrote in full:
This is not the first time the PM has feted the contributions of migrant workers— and he should, because if all of them went on strike, our economy collapses. However, appreciation cannot stop at warm and fuzzy fb posts but should translate into concrete policies to make a difference in their lives, which his government is capable of doing but lack the political will.
I am glad that the years of hard work by groups such as HOME, TWC2 and Healthserve have led to more awareness and greater appreciation for the role migrant workers play. I remember back in 2003 when I started talking about the plight of foreign workers, esp construction workers, there was very little interest. The mainstream media wasn’t keen as well and I had to lobby hard for their stories to be told. I wrote as many letters as I could in the hope they would be published and their issues would be prioritised.
With some great allies, I managed to make headway. Social media sites such as TOC were great and allowed me to say what I wanted uncensored.
It started to change, slowly but surely.
But it seems like we have reached an impasse: there’s so much talk of “appreciation” but advocacy, human rights and the promotion of justice continue to be marginalised activities. Threats of funding cuts, and pressure from establishment forces are real. Even opposition parties aren’t keen because caring about migrant workers doesn’t get votes. Many fear being seen as “pro foreigner”, but do not realise that universal labour rights benefit voters too. This is why the work of independent NGOs is important. I am proud of what they have done with modest resources, a landscape hostile to public advocacy and absence of political patronage. Their voices are so important, because they push for real change rooted in social justice principles. Yet they remain fragile. Do continue to give them your support.