Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has just addressed the nation. In his speech, he spent a significant amount of time addressing our migrant workers directly, reassuring them that Singapore will take care of them.
In particular, PM Lee said : “We will look after your health, your welfare and your livelihood. We will work with your employers to make sure that you get paid, and you can send money home. And we will help you stay in touch with friends and family. Ramadan begins in a few days’ time. We will make sure that arrangements are made for our Muslim workers. When Aidilfitri comes next month, we will celebrate with our Muslim friends, just as we celebrated the Indian New Year with our Indian friends last week.This is our duty and responsibility to you, and to your families.”
How does his speech stack up with Ministry of Manpower (MOM) guidelines which effectively state that employers can reduce migrant worker salaries by up to 25% while also forgoing their work-related allowances, such as transport and shift allowances of $400 per month?
Is his speech indicative that MOM will need to revise their advisory to make it more in line with PM Lee’s exhortations?
In a recent episode of Talking Point, aired on CNA, the host Diana Ser interviewed 3 panelists, Jeanette Tiong (Tiong), Director of Foreign Worker Well Being at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Dipa Swaminathan (Swaminathan), founder of Itsrainingraincoats who has worked with migrant workers for the past five years and Dr. Leong Hoe Nam (Leong), a infectious diseases specialist from Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
In the programme, Tiong made clear that the MOM could not act alone, that it required the buy in of employers in order for the overall treatment of migrant workers to be improved. However, without concrete and clear legislation in place, how do we combat the behaviour of unscrupulous employers?
Besides, the MOM is the regulator. Since when does a regulator need to get buy in where human health is concerned? They should be setting and enforcing an industry standard as opposed to relying on the buy in of private companies who have profit as the biggest driving factor!
Surely firm legislation must be in place to prevent unscrupulous employers from mistreating employees in the first place before we can bring errant employers to heel? This should not be something that requires “buy in”. It should be a matter of complying with the law.
If you are promising migrant workers that their wages will be paid, the advisory from MOM cannot contain any loopholes which leave it open to employers to cut salaries. If there are loop holes, there will surely be unscrupulous employers. Is it realistic for the MOM to expect employers to do the right thing if laws do not force them to in the first place?
If anything, this whole COVID-19 outbreak has exposed the many ills of how our migrant workers are treated. At this juncture, should we really be asking for buy in? Clearly the buy in strategy hasn’t worked.
Clear laws on what an employer can and cannot do — must be put in place. Not advisories that provide employers an out in relation to cutting salaries when the workers already have no allowances now that they are not working.
It is manifestly clear that if left to their own devices, employers will undercut their employees.