MARUAH, a human-rights non-government organisation, has issued a statement on Wednesday (6 May) highlighting its recommendations on what can be done to improve the status and well being of Singapore’s migrant workers at the present moment, as well as during mid-term when the Circuit Breaker measures relax and in the long run of between one and three years.
In its statement, MARUAH noted that migrant workers make more than quarter (26 percent) of the workforce in Singapore as it has 999,000 migrant workers with work permits and 200,000 ‘S’ pass holders.
“Singapore is a First World country. Our policies and practices need to change so that our standards on how we treat migrant workers are comparable to those in Japan, countries in Europe and Canada,” MARUAH said, though it applauded the large amount of work being done for migrant workers in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the city-state.
It also said that these recommendations have been addressed to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long and Ministers in the task force.
Recommendations for the present
In terms of health concerns of migrant workers, MARUAH suggests to have an on-site COVID-19 testing and health screening for all migrant workers that have been close contacts with infected patients, are employed as caregivers in residential homes, domestic workers or are in the service industry as well as those who live in non-dormitories.
Apart form this, the administration of COVID-19 tests should also be beefed up in order to reduce the seriousness of infections and limit the spread among migrant workers.
Noting that COVID-19 virus might stay for another two years or more as mentioned by scientist, MARUAH proposes the Government to include migrant workers in the next phase of COVID-19’s healthcare plans. The organisation also wants the Government to continue the treatment programmes without asking the migrant workers to bear the health costs for preventive and protective measures.
Besides that, the Government should also set up on-site medical clinic facilities for migrant workers during circuit-breaker (CB) period and in the next phase, MARUAH stated.
It added that the migrant workers should also be given soaps, sanitisers, face masks and easy access to water to wash hands by the employers whenever needed.
As for mental health, MARUAH said that the translation services are required so the workers can share necessary information during medical consultations, as well as to counsel workers on worries like losing their wages or lives, anxieties over not fulfilling their breadwinner role and not clearing the debts to agencies and money-lenders.
It also highlighted the importance of counselling support, saying that more trained counsellors are needed to handle distress calls, to act on emergencies, to share information and to give support to the migrant workers.
Given that the main priority now is to ensure the workers’ health, MARUAH also suggested to detent or deport undocumented workers, or those with lapsed work permits or those have had their work permits revoked over non-compliance to CB orders.
Safe living spaces, shelters and support
MARUAH also suggested the Government to set up isolation facilities or treatment in hospitals for workers who have been tested positive with COVID-19, and quarantine the uninfected ones who have shared common contact space with the infected individuals.
In line with the safe distancing measures, the Government should also ensure that workers who are not in contact spaces with the infected workers are well-protected. They should be placed in a safe living area with no overcrowding in the dormitories and the non-dormitories.
To prepare for the return of workers, MARUAH recommended that the current living spaces of these migrant workers be transformed with “much reduced ratios of workers to a room, better ventilation, lighting, more toilets, showers and dining areas, all with the physical distancing of 1 to 2 metres apart for each migrant worker”.
Meanwhile, employers should also cover the cleaning cost and provide constant cleansing schemes for all spaces used by migrant workers such as toilets, shower areas, wash basins, laundry areas and kitchens.
Given that the current shelters are fully occupied amid COVID-19 pandemic, MARUAH noted that the shelter spaces have to be increased to accommodate abused domestic migrant workers.
“The support services from trained support staff in migrant worker groups ought to be identified as ‘essential services’ in the CB, so that these staff members and volunteers can work with the migrant workers to give support for them to seek protection and recourse. This is important so that all resources in helping migrant workers are fully utilised,” it said.
Migrant workers should also be treated with proper food, where it is catered to their cultures, and is well-balanced, palatable and nutritious.
Caterers should also pay attention to the workers’ break fast time during the month of Ramadan by ensuring the food packages arrive within a window of 30 minutes of the workers’ allotted meal times.
Other than this, MARUAH also urged the need for continued governance over the quality of food, the hygiene standards in the preparation, the timeliness on delivery standards as well as the cost structures.
Addressing the issue of delayed salary payments to migrant workers, MARUAH called out the Government to enhance its monitoring efforts to ensure the wages of all migrant workers are paid on time in order to build their confidence on financial matters.
“There must be deeper monitoring efforts on any delays in salary payments to migrant workers as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has helped in offsetting the levy payments of $750 per worker for 62,000 employers who will benefit close to $675 million in this first wave of levy rebate pay outs,” it said in its statement.
Noting there are migrant workers still subjected to premature terminations “based on a number of reasons that often are not fully investigated”, MARUAH hence asked MOM to assure the regulations pertaining to the payment of salaries, including the payment of rest day compensation for any work done on rest days to be strictly enforced.
“Assistance is needed for those who have lost their jobs. Particularly, employers of domestic workers need to be told that salaries need to be paid in full and on time, and domestic workers need to be informed that they should be getting their full salaries in a timely manner,” it said.
Knowledge Management and Communication
MARUAH also highlighted that it is “unacceptable” for any form of abusive behaviour or blaming migrant workers by intermediaries or employers during CB or at any time.
It then suggested the Government to utilise graphics and podcasts in the migrant worker’s mother tongue when it comes to sharing information. MARUAH also stated that the Government should hire multi-lingual officers to function across many platforms which are related to migrant worker issues.
To facilitate social communications, MARUAH said internet access is necessary for migrant workers to continue their social relations with families, friends and for their entertainment.
It added that the mainstream media needs to consistently focus on fair and responsible reporting when discussing about vulnerable groups.
MARUAH also urged the Government to quickly address the issue of racism and xenophobia towards the migrant workers to prevent deepened prejudice from some Singaporeans.
It said, “Migrant workers cannot just be representative voices in dealing with their views as they are workers, they have a voice on their stake, they have a voice to state their living conditions, their salary deductions and on their well-being.
“We need to respect them, not be reductive or turn them into token representations in consultations,” it added.
Government, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs/NGOs), Trade Unions and the Media
MARUAH pointed out that the Government should be more inclusive in its approach to not pre-select which CSO/NGO it wishes to consult or use as a reference point.
This is because all CSOs/NGOs can offer a constructive role in almost all circumstances, especially in emergencies, where the affected communities would reach out to CSOs/NGOs, says MARUAH.
“Migrant workers need to be able to give honest feedback and talk about their lived experiences without fear of repercussions. The government needs to take this feedback in its stride, and not be quick to accuse NGOs and other actors of perpetuating fake news, as this creates an environment of fear where realities stay hidden and are not made known for critical analysis and improvements.
“Importantly, the NGOs’ capabilities and compliance to their standard operating procedures on checking the narratives they receive, ought not be ridiculed by the government, trade union, media as critiques and queries can, rightly, be put forward,” it added.
Recommendations for the mid-term to long-term
When it comes improving the well-being of migrant workers in mid to long-term time, MARUAH expected to see improvement with better Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as well as stricter enforcements and governance in the aspect of health concerns, food, salary payments, knowledge management and communications.
The relationships between the Governments, CSO, Union and media can also be improved as CSOs/NGOs are treated as partners and governments are key essential partners to the work of CSOs/NGOs.
MARUAH suggested to “unionise” the migrant workers, as well as to make sure migrant workers are viewed as workers with expertise and are protected from abuse.
Information and Communication, Education
On top of this, MARUAH also proposed the law to protect migrant workers who lost income or jobs by filing their complaints to the authorities, such as Witness Protection Law.
Additionally, the Government should also set up a national directory of multi-lingual pool of translators who are paid officers while seeking the voices and views of migrant workers.
For the mid-term goal, MARUAH also suggested to establish a workgroup comprising educationists, parents, students, migrant workers, the arts and theatre practitioners and NGOs to review the current education modules that will develop a culture among Singaporean to live in a positive society of diversities.
In light of the issue of overcrowded living condition, MARUAH proposed to form a workgroup to discuss the situation of the current dormitories – whether it could be retro-fitted for the future living quarters for migrant workers as well as to review the current laws and guidelines of the authorities.
Noting the inequalities in working hours and wages of migrant workers, MARUAH said, “The valuing and appreciation of migrant workers needs to unhinge this system and to be First World, we need to reframe the structure.”
Hence, it suggested a workgroup and a range of experts to look into it and work out a long term solution and a better framework that structure the operational model.
MARUAH expressed that it is crucial to review the “Trade-Off policy” as there is a “pervasive culture” among Singaporeans who seems to think that “cheap labour is a trade-off for the high levels of prosperity”.
“We believe in values and the communications needs to be upright on this and sensitive in ensuring that people rights are recognised to be equal, even more so, when each person is a worker doing their part in building the country and their lives,” it said.
As COVID-19 pandemic underlined the importance of essential workers to the society and global supply chains of product products and labour, MARUAH hence urged the Government to protect local workers and migrant workers by reviewing wage schemes and rising liveability costs in the country.
MARUAH stated, “It is timely to set Minimum Wages for all workers so that Singaporeans too could do the work of migrant workers if the wages reach minimum levels and not at the current wages received by migrant workers in construction, in domestic work, in caregiving. And when migrant workers are needed for the jobs, they get the same stipulated wages with no deductions.”
Touching on the congested land in Singapore, MARUAH also raised concerns on the escalated land prices due to the development costs will impact the cost of living space for migrant workers and the lower wage earners.