Social worker, Jolovan Wham helps workers make negative feedback about abusive employers

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For all of the foreign workers who feel they may be treated unfairly or even abused by their employers, prominent social worker and civil activist Jolovan Wham believes there is a recourse, and that is through the very feedback system implemented by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) which allows employers to submit feedback on their foreign workers.

Mr Wham, who works for the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), recently drew attention to that particular MOM feedback system which allows an employer to recommend that a foreign worker no longer be employed in Singapore should they be deemed “undesirable”. He contends that MOM’s decision to accept such feedback based solely on the employer’s word, without proper investigation, is unfairly disadvantageous to these workers.

Still, as much as he was opposed to it, he said, “I don’t like this feedback system. But it looks like we have no choice because too many migrant workers have been unfairly punished by it.”

Here is what Mr Wham had to say in his Facebook post on 14 February 2017:

“The Ministry of Manpower has a ‘feedback‘ system which allows an employer to recommend that a worker not be employed here if she/he is undesirable or ‘bad’. I have always been opposed to this because MOM’s decision to accept such feedback is based on the employer’s story only without any proper investigation.

“I don’t think such a feedback system should exist, whether it is a complaint by an employer or a worker. Claims and complaints need to be investigated properly. But now I have decided to turn the tables and write negative feedback about abusive employers to MOM.

“What triggered this? This afternoon, despite acknowledgement by MOM that an employer (who is an SMU professor with a PhD from MIT) had pressured a domestic worker to kneel on the floor to say sorry for mistakes made, and (that the worker) had to write 500 times ‘I will follow what grandma tells me to’ as punishment, she was still unfairly terminated by the employer and had to return home.

“Another domestic worker was threatened and had a knife pointed in her direction by the employer. Despite filing a complaint at MOM, she was told she had ‘no case’ and had to return home.

“Why should migrant workers have to suffer in silence when such injustice happens? Why should you have to lose your job when your employer points a knife at you, humiliates and tortures you mentally? We need to take action. If abusive employers can submit negative feedback about you for no good reason and MOM blacklists you without thorough investigations, it is time to fight back.

“I don’t like this feedback system. But it looks like we have no choice because too many migrant workers have been unfairly punished by it.

“You can (submit feedback about) an abusive employer and recommend that she/he be barred from hiring workers to the following email: [email protected]. If you are a domestic worker and need help with this, I’m happy to assist you.”

Many netizens have commented in support of Mr Wham’s move. One of them, David Cheong wrote: “In fairness, the ‘blacklisting’ is a supposedly easy way for the employer to help potential employers avoid hiring problematic workers. However, it can be abused by dishonest and vengeful employers when workers ask for a transfer.

“Still, it is not the end. My sister was able to bring in a (foreign domestic worker who was blacklisted) because she could vouch for her. I agree that a list of errant employers is good. They should realize that everyone is human.”

To which, Mr Wham replied, “That’s the problem. Why should anyone have to vouch for her before she’s allowed in? We should treat domestic workers as (we do) any other employees in other occupations. The prospective employer can ask for a character reference, or speak to the ex-employer themselves.

“Why should MOM create an unverifiable feedback system?” he asked.

David Cheong further added, “I think our politicians and policy makers are used to coming out with supposedly ‘quick fixes’ that are very often ‘one-size-fits-all’. They tend to look at numbers instead of the humans behind the numbers.

“What we need is to elect politicians with ‘heart’ rather than ‘smarts’ without ‘heart’! Only then will Singapore have a chance to become a caring nation … instead of a cold sterile city.”