According to a new survey by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Women, it found that only one in four Singaporeans feel that there is a need for migrant workers, although seven in 10 agree that there is a shortage of labour in the country.
Highlighting their unhappiness towards migrant employees, over half the amount of individuals surveyed noted that they believe that the crime rate in Singapore has increased and the country’s culture and heritage have also been threatened.
The report, which studied four Asian countries, highlighted that positive attitudes towards migrant workers have dropped over the last 10 years although migration went up overall.
If that’s not all, the results were also in line with those gathered in Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The report titled “Public Attitudes Towards Migrant Workers in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore And Thailand” was conducted on 4,099 individuals from the four countries, which includes 1,005 Singaporeans. It comprises of interviews with governments, employers’ bodies and non-government organisations, and more.
The interviews were conducted between December 2018 and January 2019.
Based on data by the Ministry of Manpower, there are 1.4 million foreign workers in the country as of June 2019. This amount includes 255,800 domestic helpers, 284,300 construction workers on work permits, 197,800 S Pass holders, and 189,000 employment pass holders.
The latest ILO report stated that 32% of Singaporean respondents opined that migrant workers possess bad work ethics and cannot be trusted, which is the lowest percentage among the other Asian countries surveyed.
On top of that, 60% felt that these workers should not get the same salary benefits as local workers, the highest number recorded among the four nations.
Many in the region believe that migrant workers get more workplace benefits than they actually do, and they are taking away job opportunities from locals.
Some positive views
Compared to other Asian countries surveyed, Singaporeans have a more positive view of migrant workers, the report pointed out.
It revealed that 58% of local respondents look at migrant workers as people with overall positive net effect on the country’s economy, a much larger percentage than those in Japan (38%), Thailand (32%), and Malaysia (30%).
In addition, 30% here also see migrant workers as a “drain on the national economy”, a lot lower than those in Malaysia (47%), Thailand (40%), and Japan (30%).
The study also found that majorities of the public said that they had spoken out against someone who said offensive things about migrants, with Singapore recording 54%, Thailand (58%), Japan (26%), and Malaysia (70%).
Despite that, the support for migrant workers in Singapore has dropped.
Upon reading the results of the survey, many online users gave mixed reactions over the issue. Penning their thoughts in the Facebook page of the Straits Times, some netizens expressed gratitude to migrant workers, especially construction workers, as they’ve contributed a lot to the country. They even remarked that Singaporeans are “always lazing on their jobs” and are reluctant to take up hard-labour jobs, while migrant workers are a lot more “committed and hard working”.
JoJo Chin even said that unemployed Singaporeans “prefer not to take up dirty, back breaking jobs because they are too highly educated. And they are waiting to get free money from the government”.
On the other hand, another group of netizens felt that migrant workers are stealing jobs from the locals. Rajan Vellasamy said he don’t mind foreign workers in industries like construction but “priority should be given to SG citizens in any other sectors and top posts”.
A few opined that Singapore only needs migrant workers for blue-collar jobs, and not those foreign talents that are employed for professional positions.
Singaporean blue-collar workers competing with low-wage workers from region
At a roundtable on wages organised by ST on 30 Nov last year, five panelists were invited to talk about Singapore’s wage model. The five, former labour chief Lim Boon Heng, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, labour MP Zainal Sapari, and employers, Mr Kurt Wee and Mr Daniel Thong, sparred on the various labour issues.
At one point, Dr Koh mentioned that workers at the bottom of the pyramid earn very low wages because they’re competing against one million low-wage workers from other countries.
It was clear that Dr Koh was referring to Singaporean workers at the lower strata competing with the low-wage foreign workers currently working in Singapore.
Dr Koh continued, “A brilliant Palestinian blogger, Nas, recently had a series of videos on Singapore, one of which was called Crazy Poor Asians, and his point is Singaporeans are not rich and the average Singaporean is just getting by.”
“And he made the point that the average wage of the foreign workers in Singapore is only $600 a month, and he worked it out – less than US$2 (S$2.70) per hour – and he asked: Why is it so low? And he answered his own question – because there is no minimum wage in Singapore,” Dr Koh added.
“So the reason why people at the bottom of the pyramid earn such low wages (is) because they’re competing against a million low-paid workers from the region (working in Singapore).”