About 23 local environmental groups have expressed solidarity for migrant workers in a joint statement on Friday (7 August), urging the Government to take more action to ensure that migrant workers receive “respect, fair reward for their labour, decent working and living conditions”.
Among the environmental groups that have supported the statement are SG Climate Rally, Foodscape Collective and Fridays for Future SG, as well as the groups from educational institutions such as Eco-Youth Collective, NUS SAVE, NTU Divest, and Fossil-Free Yale-NUS.
They pledged to stand with all who work to realise the shared vision of a “better and more equal world”, and called for the Government to consider the policies proposed by advocacy groups such as HOME and TWC2.
The policies proposed include stronger regulation of recruitment practices and fees, minimum wages for workers, employment protections, flexibility to change employers or sectors beyond the current temporary scheme, changing the recent amendment that prevents workers from leaving their accommodation without employers’ consent, and addressing mental health.
“It is essential that the Government engage migrant workers directly, as well as through these groups, so that they are directly involved in co-creating solutions to the longstanding issues they face,” it stated.
One of the authors of the statement, Ivy Li, highlighted that environmentalism is not solely about safeguarding nature but also about standing for “greater justice” for marginalized communities who are suffering due to “self-interested choices” made by those in power.
“I am disturbed by how little protection our institutions and systems provide to vulnerable communities such as migrant workers, especially against the exploitative aspects of a profit-driven economy. I see improving migrant workers’ welfare as an important part of the sustainable future that I want to see for our country,” said Ms Li.
Meanwhile, Singaporeans are also encouraged to show solidarity by writing about migrant worker issues in a template provided by the environmental groups, which can be emailed to their respective Members of Parliament (MPs) to be brought up in Parliament.
“We call for our fellow citizens to actively engage your Members of Parliament about migrant worker issues and support the work of advocacy groups to bring about a Singapore we can be proud of,” the environmental groups noted.
The co-founder of Speak for Climate, Tim Min Jie emphasized the need to show solidarity for the labour movement as she believes that “the logic of willing to engage in labour exploitation” is the same as “the logic of willing to exploit the earth”.
“It is a logic that focuses on extracting as much value as possible, from the land or human bodies, in order to gain more profits,” said Ms Tim. “We have plans to involve migrant workers in co-creating a shared vision for a just and green post-COVID recovery that are still in the works.”
Singapore’s COVID-19 cases had escalated among its massive migrant workers’ population, which prompted the Government to gazette 25 dormitories as isolation areas so far.
To tackle this, the Government announced on 1 June that about 11 new purpose-built dormitories (PBDs) with higher standards will be built in the next one to two years to house up to 100,000 workers.
However, the environmental groups noted that the improved dormitory standards do not address the “top problems” faced by migrant workers – high recruitment fees, low wages, lack of employment protections and access to healthcare, inadequate rest, vulnerability to abuse, and threats to mental health – that keep them in precarious positions in the first place.
“In allowing these problems to persist, we have created two Singapores: ‘one for citizens, long-term residents and expatriates, and one for the low-wage migrant workers who provide the back-breaking labor upon which Singapore gleams’,” it added.
The groups described this division of Singapore as a “microcosm of global inequality” which is “deeply intertwined with environmental injustice”.
“We import cheap labour and resources to create wealth that only Singapore’s citizens, residents, and expats enjoy; yet the embedded costs are borne not just by migrant workers in Singapore, but their families at home as well,” it stated.
Noting that Singapore’s petrochemicals industry has largely contributed to the climate crisis, the signatories of the statement pointed out that the Government’s plans to combat global warming also depend on the building of new infrastructure, which will be built by migrant workers.
“We rely on their labour for our wealth and our survival; they deserve our respect and fair treatment. Pursuing economic growth and climate adaptation at the expense of migrant workers is not justice; it is not even progress,” the statement reads.
Another author of the statement, Tan Yi Han noted that civil society, businesses and the public must understand how the two issues of climate change and labour welfare are “interconnected” and address these issues together.
“Most people do not connect the two issues of climate change and labour/migrant welfare. We are used to putting a single-issue lens to social issues; we recognise the symptoms of social problems without paying attention to the systems that create them,” Mr Tan noted.
“We urge the government to address the inequalities faced by the migrant worker community not with band-aid measures, but with humane labour protections that are long overdue,” said Daniel Soo from SG Climate Rally.