Migrant workers in S’pore: Have their lives really improved?

Source: Channel NewsAsia

There’re about one million work-permit holders in Singapore and they are mostly construction workers and domestic helpers.

They make-up one-fourth of our labour workforce.

Construction workers can earn as little as $800 but their pay can also exceed $1,600 if they are willing to put in the extra hours.

Source: WSJ

Besides drawing a much better pay compared to their homeland, their dreams of working in Singapore have been plagued with worries.

For some, they worry if they’d be paid on time.

Others worry if they’d be paid at all.

Then there are those who see their friends incapacitated after being injured at work.

Let’s have a quick look at the state of migrant workers in Singapore and see if their lives have really improved over the years.

Salary disputes

Some employers find ways to circumvent rules to pay migrant workers lesser than what they deserve.

Sometimes they are up to monkey business, other times, they face real cash flow issues.

For example, some subcontractors can’t pay their workers because the money is tied up at the main contractors end. Sometimes, the company goes bust and with so much debt, they have no money to pay workers.

Over the years, non-governmental organisation Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) has been lobbying for the government to make itemised payslips compulsory.

That means, it’s mandatory for companies to state basic salary, total allowance and total deductions for each salary period in the payslip.

Source: AsiaOne

This helps the workers to be aware of how much they should be receiving and allows them to clarify with their company’s HR if they’re not sure of the components in the payslip.

This law kicked in in 2016.

Of course, it wouldn’t stop unethical employers from finding loopholes if they really wish to pay them lesser than what is stated in the payslip.

But it’s a good employment practice. Better than nothing.

An effective way to ensure workers receive their rightful salaries is to make employers pay their salaries via GIRO or bank transfers.

This would allow workers to track their monthly salaries.

MWC has been advocating for electronic payments over the years and this year, they tied up with POSB to offer an all-in-one banking services.

When employers apply for work-permits, they can also choose to open a POSB bank account for their workers.

Currently, 76 per cent of employers opted-in for electronic payments.

TWC2, another advocacy group for migrant workers, echoed MWC’s push for electronic payments.

Reporting of injuries

Migrant workers are covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) but some engage lawyers to help them with WICA claims because they are not sure about the processes.

Some lawyers take advantage of their ignorance and exploit them. They persuade them to drop their WICA claims and file civil suit instead.

Workers can only seek compensation through WICA or common law. Not both.

But if they lose the lawsuit, they can re-apply for a claim under WICA as long as the claim is filed within a year of the accident.

Source: The Straits Times

These steps sound logical to us but workers are vulnerable because of their unfamiliarity.

Right now, migrant workers do not enjoy any Government subsidies.

Employers are wholly responsible for their medical treatment costs.

During the PIE work site accident last year, MWC reminded all employers to protect their workers with greater insurance coverage to avoid paying costs in excess of their own.

From this year onward, all non-Malaysian foreigners have to undergo a compulsory one-day Settling-In Programme (SIP) to learn about their employment rights, laws etc.

The programme is conducted in their own native languages.

In a nutshell

While a small handful of migrant workers still fall through the cracks, there are great ongoing efforts to help them assimilate into our workforce and keep them happy, safe at all times.  

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