HOME: More can be done to mitigate the effects of downturn for low wage migrant worker

Statement by local NGO for migrant workers, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) for May Day

As unemployment and retrenchments rise, we call upon the Singapore government, companies, employer associations and trade unions to not forget our low wage migrant workers who are also victims in the economic downturn. The construction and marine sectors have been the most affected by the slowdown and several dozen workers have approached Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) in the last 6 months either because they have been retrenched or their companies are unable to pay them their salaries because of financial difficulty. Those who have paid thousands of dollars in recruitment fees and kickbacks are the worst off. Not only have they not earned a cent, they are returning with huge debts after borrowing from money lenders, loan sharks and selling their possessions.

Even though the Ministry of Manpower allows those who have not been paid by companies to seek alternative employment, jobs are hard to find because many recruiters and prospective employers demand kickbacks from the workers. Several workers have had to return to their countries of origin because it was extremely challenging for them to find a job in this economic climate.
While the government has implemented measures for local workers, especially PMETs who are affected by the economic slowdown, little has been done to mitigate the effects of the downturn for low wage migrant workers.

Current measures to boost the construction sector, such as the establishment of a 150 million dollar public sector construction productivity fund has little impact on affected workers. We are also concerned that some companies are expecting workers to put in longer hours, and to multi task in an industry where exploitation is already a significant problem. Fatigue, overwork and lack of rest are some of the common complaints among workers who approach HOME for assistance.

In the light of these challenges, HOME recommends the following:
a) Allow workers who have not been paid because their companies are insolvent to be compensated their full salaries from foreign worker levies or from forfeited security bonds
b) Set up a portal or a centre for employers to recruit workers from companies who have had to retrench its employees because of the economic downturn.
c) Ensure that employers have considered hiring retrenched migrant workers before approving new work permits from those abroad.
d) Step up on enforcement and crack down on local recruiters who receive kickbacks and fees from workers who have already paid agents in their countries of origin.
e) Provide foreign worker levy subsidies for businesses in the affected sectors to reduce their costs.