Our “whole-of-government” needs to protect vulnerable & elderly S’poreans from being exploited by unscrupulous employers

Our “whole-of-government” needs to protect vulnerable & elderly S’poreans from being exploited by unscrupulous employers

by Joseph Nathan

When l last wrote about the hardships faced by our Singaporean workforce, a few friends and former colleagues wanted to know how widespread the issue really is.

After taking a walk in Chinatown, everyone of them literally gave me a look of disbelief that the hardships and sufferings are so widespread.

I am encouraged that they ended up discreetly giving those affected some monies, buy foods for them and some even suggested that a ground-up help be created to help affected Singaporeans.

Yes, a couple of thousands are ready being pledged and some have since roped in other friends to help develop a more meaningful community based programme that is less onerous and to be delivered without hurting the pride and dignity of those in need since many of their situations are beyond their reasonable controls.

In the video below, l am sharing the plights of an elderly worker, Mr Kho Chuan Aik.

At 60 years of age, he works as a daily rated dish-washer at the hawker centre in People’s Park Complex but was told to go on leavez without pay, until the Heightened Alert is lifted.

His company did not even have the decency to help him appeal for the $500 or $700 Temporary Relief Grant given the fact that most of these elderly workers are not tech-savvy or may find making an appeal a daunting task.

This is not an isolated case as workers in other hawker centres, coffeeshops and F&B outlets are equally affected too.

Isn’t this a clear case of business owners conveniently using the Heightened Alert to exploit these vulnerable workers out of their “bare-bones” livelihoods?

Given how widespread this is, MOM ought to know about such exploits but why are they so silent and not taking any action against the exploiters?

To see that this is also taking place right in hawker centres managed by NEA, NTUC and other “supposedly” social enterprises, shouldn’t MOM be hauling up these entities to court for exploiting our elderly and vulnerable workforce?

Living on US$20 a day in Singapore

Assuming that these workers were successful in appealing for the relief grant of $500 or $700, this means that they have only US$20 to eat and feed their families in one of the world’s most expensive city.

How about those who do not know how to appeal?

Why isn’t the relief grants make more accessible and less onerous for affected Singaporeans, so as not to add to their burdens?

Surprised that the new Finance Minister, Lawrence Wong, thinks that this is fair and tenable, and see no need to draw on our reserve for more supports to help affected Singaporeans.

To make matter worse, the relief grants are being used as “backdoor” excuses by these business owners to defend themselves while they blatantly exploit these workers.

What kind of example is Lawrence, who happened to be the former Education Minister, imparting to our younger ones?

This is morally wrong of the Finance Minister and is setting up very dangerous precedents that will surely turn our country into a soul-less nation in no time.

I hope MOH will release data of suicides in Singapore in a more timely manner so that we can see the impact of our current economic and social hardships on Singaporeans and find ways to reduce those factors that are driving fellow Singaporeans to take their lives needlessly.

Foreign workers vs Singaporeans workers

Given the international highlight on foreign workers, it is sad to state that foreign workers are having a much better quality of life than affected Singaporeans these days.

This is thanks to the collective efforts of more boisterous NGOs in highlighting their plights and abuses, and who are also more nimble and agile in getting these issues addressed.

But when it comes to our own Singaporeans, where and who can they go for help?

If the helps and supports are indeed in place, why was this latest exploitation of our vulnerable and elderly workers possible in the first place?

Can any Singaporean accept the reality that foreign workers are treated better than Singaporean workers right here in Singapore?

Hope the new Labour Minister will act firmly with these errant business owners, including NEA, NTUC and those alleged social enterprises, so that such exploits will never be allowed to be repeated.

Both NEA and NTUC need to rethink about their primary purpose of existence and make a conscientious effort to play their critical socio-economic roles.

Like the prodigal son in the Bible, they have obviously gone astray but at the expense of great hardships upon the shoulders of affected Singaporeans.

So let us ask ourselves a very hard question – who and how are we going to help our fellow Singaporeans who are in needs, abused or exploited?

It is sad but true that Singaporeans clearly deserve better…

This was first published on Joseph Nathan’s Facebook page, and reproduced with permission.

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