The job security of migrant workers who resume work after they’ve completed their quarantine period will depend on their employers as well as the state of the economy, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong while speaking at a virtual press conference yesterday (28 May).
“We will take care of the migrant workers during this period when they are in quarantine. That’s our commitment. But once workers are recovered and are released to the workforce, whether or not they continue to work depends on the employers,” he said.
However, this statement of Mr Wong did not go down too well with the Human Organisation of Migration Economics (HOME).
HOME, which is a local non-governmental organisation that provides services and advocates on behalf of migrant workers, said that job security of these workers should not be decided by the employers and the Government “should not treat migrant workers as disposable goods”.
In a statement published in its website, HOME highlighted that migrant workers are normally the first to lose their jobs during any economic crisis.
“While we understand the rational for prioritising job rendition for citizens, it is important that we do not ignore migrant workers, especially the low wage work permit holders who have done much for the advancement of our country’s economy,” the organisation stated.
It added, “They do the jobs which few locals do because the pay is low and the working conditions are harsh.”
In fact, HOME pointed out that migrant workers in the construction sector are “particularly vulnerable” due to the uncertainties in the construction industry right now.
To make it worse, most of these workers had paid a hefty requirement fees or had taken up loans and mortgages in order to come to Singapore to make a living. As such, if they lose their jobs right now, they will be sent back to their home countries deeply in debt, HOME noted.
“Returning home in debt would have devastating consequences for them and their families, who might be facing additional financial hardship in light of COVID-19.”
The organisation also revealed that it had been contacted by a number of migrant workers who informed that their employers have terminated them due to the impact of the pandemic on businesses, and the employers are waiting to repatriate them once the travel ban is lifted.
Singapore’s dependency on migrant workers is high
Although migrant workers’ job security could be on the rocks due to the impact of COVID-19, HOME highlighted that Singapore’s dependency on foreign manpower, particularly in the construction industry, is as “high as 80 percent with more than 50 percent of the demand coming from critical public sector infrastructure projects”.
It added that the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) temporary measures to permit inter-sectoral transfers of Work Permit holders shows just how important these migrant workers are to the country’s economy.
“Supply side bottlenecks remain, including reluctance of current employers to give consent for transfer, information asymmetry on available jobs in the market, limited digital literacy and language barriers and blanket Stay-Home Notice (SHN) measures only complicating the whole process,” the organisation explained.
As such, HOME calls for the Manpower Ministry to permit migrants workers in such situations to change employers without having the need to get approval from their current employers and facilitate job-matching at a national level.
It also suggested that MOM should come up with an online platform for companies who are hiring to allow others to match employees that they plan to retrench with jobs that need them.
HOME also added that MOM can advise employers who are planning to hire workers from abroad, to use this platform first to hire applicants.
“We should not treat migrant workers as disposable goods: usually the first to be hired because of the relatively low costs to employ them, but also the first to be fired, not being citizens and having the least employment protection under the law,” the organisation said.
“Job security is the main source of mental stress for many of the workers we have spoken to. Addressing these concerns should also be the government’s priority in looking after the well-being of migrant workers.”