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Employment laws in place to protect foreign workers

  • The Straits Times (28 November 2014): Employment laws in place to protect foreign workers
  • The Straits Times (27 November 2014): Conduct more regular checks on migrant workers' living quarters
  • The Straits Times (24 November 2014): Don't let bad employers tarnish S'pore's image
  • The Straits Times (24 November 2014): Urgent need to improve foreign workers' living conditions
  • The Straits Times (24 November 2014): Uphold migrant workers' rights
  • The Straits Times (24 November 2014):Come down hard on recalcitrant employers

Employment laws in place to protect foreign workers
- The Straits Times, 28 November 2014

  1. We refer to the letters on 24 Nov ("Come down hard on recalcitrant employers", "Uphold migrant workers’ rights", "Urgent need to improve foreign workers’ living conditions", and "Don’t let bad employers tarnish S’pore’s image"), and on 27 Nov ("Conduct more regular checks on migrant workers’ living quarters").
  2. We are heartened by readers’ concern for the welfare of foreign workers in our midst. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) takes a firm stance against employers who do not ensure that their workers have acceptable accommodation, or pay their salaries on time.
  3. We already provide deterrent penalties in our employment laws. Employers who fail to fulfil either of the above obligations face a fine of up to $10,000, and up to 12 months’ imprisonment, per offence, under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA). These penalties were last doubled in November 2012. Errant employers will also be barred from applying for new work passes or renewing work passes of their existing workers. In April 2014, we also raised the penalty for failure to pay salary under the Employment Act, from a maximum of $5,000, to $15,000. We have further committed to mandate itemised payslips, as well as key employment terms in writing, by 2016. A set of Tripartite Guidelines on the issuance of itemised payslips has been developed and issued.
  4. Furthermore, we actively enforce the statutory requirements. In the first six months of 2014, MOM performed more than 360 housing inspections and took enforcement action against more than 600 employers. Last year, MOM also handled over 3,000 salary claims involving foreign workers. This is less than 0.5% of work permit holders here. Employers are, by and large, law-abiding.
  5. In addition, we undertake efforts to educate workers on their rights and responsibilities. These include guidebooks in native languages, safety orientation courses as well as regular newsletters and roadshows. Newly-arrived workers are informed of channels of assistance, including embassies and non-government organisations (NGOs), as part of the work permit issuance process.
  6. MOM encourages members of the public to report any errant employment practices to mom_fmmd@mom.gov.sg, so that we can investigate and take action.

Conduct more regular checks on migrant workers' living quarters
- The Straits Times, 27 November 2014

I was appalled to read about the horrendous living conditions of a group of foreign workers ("50 workers crammed into two condo units"; Nov 20). It is a blot on our country's image. No one should be treated so inhumanely.

Foreign workers build the infrastructure that allow us to live comfortably. They have left behind their loved ones to come here to work, in order to build a better future for their families. They deserve our appreciation and better treatment, and not the indifference we have shown towards their welfare and living conditions. Let us open our hearts to them.

The Ministry of Manpower could pre-empt such abuses by conducting more regular spot checks on the lodgings of all foreign contract workers here. It is unacceptable for such cases to keep cropping up despite the ministry's surveillance.

The Migrant Workers' Centre deserves credit for giving foreign workers the avenue to voice their concerns without fear of losing their jobs.

Don't let bad employers tarnish S'pore's image
- The Straits Times, 24 November 2014

The employers of foreign workers must make sure the accommodation provides enough room ("50 workers crammed into two condo units"; last Thursday).

Harri Construction & Maintenance, which was accused of putting its workers in cramped quarters, claims the workers wanted to stay near Little India. It does not matter where the workers want to stay. Providing proper housing is a must.

What other reason does the employer have for packing 50 workers in two condo units, other than to cut costs?

This will affect Singapore's reputation and our human rights record.

The Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) should have worked with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to visit the condos and collect evidence to prosecute Harri Construction & Maintenance.

Harri Construction & Maintenance claimed its workers wanted three days off a week, but it offered them just a weekly day off.

Did it appoint workers to explain to their colleagues Singapore's labour laws? The firm should not assume its workers understand the laws here.

Clear communication could have prevented misunderstandings like this.

What are the measures in place to ensure S Pass and Employment Pass workers are not underpaid?

The MWC, MOM and other authorities should form a committee to deal with errant contractors.

While most foreign workers are treated well by their employers, we should not allow bad hats to flout laws and tarnish Singapore's image.

Urgent need to improve foreign workers' living conditions
- The Straits Times, 24 November 2014)

It was distressing to read the reports on the poor living conditions of foreign workers ("Freeze on temporary dorms in 12 estates", last Tuesday; "50 workers crammed into two condo units", last Thursday; "Workers' housing issues need immediate attention", last Friday).

It is a sad indictment of the way foreign workers are being treated in a developed country like ours. One reason for this state of affairs is employers who are averse to increasing costs by housing workers in purpose-built dorms.

It cannot be overemphasised that foreign workers come here because Singaporeans refuse to take on the jobs in the building and construction sector.

They make great personal sacrifices, leaving their loved ones behind so they can eke out a living here. Their lives are made even more unbearable when employers short-change them simply to increase their profits.

There is a great urgency for the Government to accelerate the building of purpose-built dorms, now that the building of temporary dorms has been halted.

Unscrupulous employers who mistreat their workers should also be dealt with more harshly.

It is obvious that the workers suffer in silence because they do not want their rice bowl to be affected. Greater awareness has to be raised among them about their rights so they can report injustices to the authorities.

Singapore is grappling with the problem of how we can improve our level of graciousness towards locals as well as foreigners in our midst.

All of us have to realise the need for greater humanity and compassion towards others.

Uphold migrant workers' rights
- The Straits Times, 24 November 2014

I was appalled to read about the plight of 50 construction workers who were found living in cramped and filthy conditions ("50 workers crammed into two condo units"; last Thursday).

Migrant workers sacrifice a lot to come here, so they may fear losing their jobs and being sent home if they speak up when their rights are infringed.

It is wrong to deny these workers their basic needs such as proper accommodation.

I applaud the Migrant Workers' Centre for its efforts to speak up for the migrant workers.

There is a clear need to communicate to them that they will be protected when they lodge complaints against their bosses.

Construction firms should also pay these workers their proper wages as stated in their contracts. Firms that refuse to comply should receive harsher punishment.

I urge the Ministry of Manpower to act against these employers as this is not the first case of migrant workers being denied proper accommodation and pay.

It is important that disputes between construction companies and their employees be resolved quickly.

Migrant workers have contributed to the development of Singapore but they remain unappreciated. I hope more can be done to help them.

Come down hard on recalcitrant employers
- The Straits Times, 24 November 2014

I could not agree more with last Friday's article ("Workers' housing issues need immediate attention").

The spot checks by the Migrant Workers' Centre have highlighted glaring failures in the manner in which these workers are housed. The explanations (or excuses) provided by the employers sound lame at best.

Rat-infested housing with choked toilets are no way to accommodate the thousands of workers who are responsible for building and maintaining Singapore's infrastructure.

I am puzzled as to why the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) does not take more stringent action against recalcitrant employers. How do they get away with these brazen violations despite the repeated reports in the media?

All it would take is for the MOM to come down hard and firmly on a few employers, and the resulting deterrent factor would have a ripple effect.

With very little expense or use of resources, much can be done to improve the conditions of these workers.

For example, instituting the concept of payslips, allowing whistleblowers to work, and setting up dedicated and accessible complaint lines can be implemented quite easily and can make a dramatic difference to the migrant worker landscape.

I hope the MOM is paying heed to these calls.

We should all do our part for these workers, but the MOM should lead the way.