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Forum Reply: Migrant workers’ welfare protected in Singapore

We thank Mr Mohamad Farid Harunal Rashid for his suggestions to improve the welfare of our migrant workers (Why it is so hard to push for migrant worker welfare, July 26).

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) shares Mr Farid’s views on the importance of safeguarding the well-being of migrant workers, and has undertaken significant efforts to strengthen the support ecosystem for them.

In 2020, MOM set up the dedicated Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group to support and care for migrant workers. During the Covid-19 pandemic, our officers were deployed to the dormitories to ensure that workers received good and timely medical support. Migrant workers received vaccinations at the same time as our citizen population. 

Beyond the pandemic, our officers continue to engage workers in dormitories to resolve issues that they face. We also remain connected to our workers through around 2,300 Friends of ACE migrant worker volunteers. 

We have expanded our regulatory coverage from 43 large dormitories to around 1,500 dormitories to improve housing standards. Improved standards were also introduced for all new dormitories. 

Today, every migrant worker can access quality and affordable primary medical care at 10 dedicated medical centres and affiliated clinics, as well as through 24-hour teleconsultations, under the Primary Care Plan. Based on feedback from workers, the vast majority are satisfied with the services. 

We also enhanced the mandatory medical insurance for workers to ensure that they are provided with the necessary healthcare services. 

To strengthen support for mental well-being, a multi-stakeholder Project Dawn (Depression, Awareness, Well-being, Normalisation) task force was formed to raise mental health awareness among migrant workers and improve their access to multilingual health support and care services.

To care for their social well-being, we enhanced networks with stakeholders, including civil society members like non-governmental organisations and community partners. Together, we organise various recreational activities throughout the year for workers. Eight recreation centres, with a ninth being launched in the coming months, enable them to rest and recharge.

Comprehensive employment laws that are complemented by rigorous enforcement also ensure that migrant workers are properly and fairly treated, and their employment rights and well-being fully protected. 

We agree that the Government cannot do this alone. We call upon the public and civil society to continue to work with us in providing effective and meaningful support for our migrant worker community. 

Tung Yui Fai 
Chief, Assurance, Care, and Engagement Group 
Ministry of Manpower


Why it is so hard to push for migrant worker welfare - The Straits Times Forum, 26 July 2023 

The news article “MW groups urge Government for timeline to stop transporting workers in lorries” (24 Jul) highlighted some of the challenges associated with improving worker safety during work-related transportation.

These challenges stem ultimately from a less-than-savoury reality – low-wage MWs are a politically unrepresented social underclass whose vulnerability constitutes, perversely, the very premise for their economically viable presence in Singapore.

If they were not excluded from the full support, welfare and protection afforded to citizens, their employment would not be profitable, and thus not tenable. This fundamental idea forms the basis for blithely trading off worker safety against the economic and logistical concerns of citizens, like increased costs and bus-driver shortages.

It explains why the safety of workers is no more than an economic externality. It is the reason for negligible progress on this issue in spite of intermittent discussion for decades.

Until and unless we address the questionable mindset underpinning migrant labour in Singapore – that the prohibitive cost of worker welfare and protection undermines the value proposition of employing MWs – any piecemeal measures will always have limited impact. No doubt the strong pushback from a disgruntled citizenry, themselves struggling with multiple bread-and-butter issues, is a stumbling block as well.

For as long as this persists, the physical well-being of MWs will rest precariously on the charity of Singaporeans or tenacity of civil society, instead of being grounded on a broad societal commitment to basic standards.

Singapore’s punching above its weight internationally on a wide range of metrics is built upon praiseworthy as well as less-than-commendable features of our society. It is time to recognise our failings and address them collectively with greater social and political will.

Mohamad Farid Harunal Rashid