Speech at ILO/SMU Sub-Regional Tripartite Symposium on Managing Labour Migration in East Asia
Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister of State for Education and Manpower, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business
Dr Ng Gek Boo, ILO Regional Director, Asia Pacific
Professor Pang Eng Fong, Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University
Dr Ong Siow Heng, Director, Wee Kim Wee Centre, Singapore Management University
Mr Manolo Abella, Chief Technical Adviser, Asia Programme on Governance of Labour Migration
Distinguished guests and participants
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good morning to all of you. Let me first take the opportunity to welcome Brunei Darussalam as the 180th member of the International Labour Organisation, or ILO. With Brunei's admission into the ILO in January this year, all ten ASEAN countries are now ILO members.
Role of Migrants in Asia's Strong Economic Growth
2. Asia has enjoyed strong economic growth since the 1960s. According to the Asian Development Bank, East Asia and South East Asia grew by 8.7% and 6.0% respectively in 2006. The region's economic growth has led to a corresponding increase in intra-regional labour migration. Between 1995 and 2000, 1.1 million out of a total of 2.8 million Asian migrant workers, went to other Asian countries to seek employment. Countries such as Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are the main ASEAN destinations of these migrant workers. This is quite different from the situation two decades ago, when the bulk of Asian migrant workers sought employment mainly in countries outside Asia.
3. Migrant workers make important contributions to the economic progress of both their home and their host countries. For labour receiving countries, migrant workers help to meet manpower needs, thereby sustaining economic growth. For their home countries, migrant workers contribute economically through their remittances. Returning migrants also bring with them knowledge, skills, experiences and new ideas gained from working abroad, which they can then apply back home. Workers themselves benefit too. Such migration offers them new employment opportunities and in most cases, result in the betterment of their lives. Indeed, labour migration potentially offers a win-win-win proposition for all.
4. In Singapore, foreign manpower constitutes about 30% of our workforce. Singapore's job market created a record 176,000 jobs in 2006 out of which slightly less than half went to foreigners. Clearly, without foreign workers, Singapore would not be able to fully meet the manpower needs of the businesses here. The contributions of these foreign workers have helped to keep our economy globally competitive and create jobs for Singaporeans. Our resident employment rate for the population aged 25 to 64 reached a record high of 76% in June 2006.
Care for Migrant Workers
5. The flow of workers across borders will continue to intensify with globalisation. It is therefore important that both labour receiving and labour source countries put in place effective policies to protect the interests of migrant workers. Migrant workers, especially those in lower skilled and lower paid jobs, can be potentially vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers or employment agents. Both the source and host countries have a part to play to strengthen the regulation and management of such workers.
6. For Singapore, we seek to ensure that migrant workers have a fruitful and fulfilling stay here. My Ministry works closely with key partners to promote the welfare of foreign workers in Singapore through organised activities, events and competitions. For example, the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) organises the annual Best Foreign Domestic Worker Award to recognise the contributions of Foreign Domestic Workers, or FDWs, in Singapore. Enlightened employers are also similarly recognised through the Best FDW Employer Award. I am pleased to share that a recent survey of FDWs conducted in 2006 showed that 90% of them were happy working in Singapore; in fact the same percentage of FDWs expressed interest in continuing to work in Singapore with their current employers.
7. The Singapore Government has adopted a multi-faceted approach in the management of our foreign manpower. This comprises a comprehensive range of legislative, administrative, and educational measures to protect the well-being of all foreign workers. Under the Employment of Foreign Workers Act, or EFWA, employers are required to look after the well-being of their foreign workers, such as providing for proper accommodation. These are strictly enforced and severe penalties are meted out to deter employers from flouting the Act. The Penal Code was also amended in 1998 to increase the maximum penalties, including jail terms, by 1.5 times for abuse of FDWs by employers or their household members. In addition, foreign workers are also covered under our labour laws which provide for prompt payment of their salary and other employment rights. Additionally, we have also introduced a comprehensive range of educational and promotional efforts to ensure that migrant workers understand and are able to assert their rights while working in Singapore. Employers are similarly informed about their obligations towards their foreign workers. My Ministry has also started to interview randomly-selected FDWs who are working for the first time in Singapore during their initial months of employment to help them adjust to their new work environment in Singapore.
Role of the ILO
8. While there is much to be gained from labour migration, the issues and challenges presented by this growing phenomenon are complex. The ILO is well placed to offer much valued technical expertise and advice in the field of labour migration to countries that are committed to enhancing their labour migration management frameworks. The recent signing of a Cooperation Agreement between the ASEAN Secretariat and the ILO paves the way for increased collaboration and partnership between ASEAN and the ILO, and signals the strong commitment of both organisations to work closely in addressing labour and employment issues, including that of labour migration. I am optimistic that this Symposium will be the first of many successful collaborative activities between ASEAN and the ILO.
9. In conclusion, let me express my appreciation to the ILO and the Singapore Management University for jointly organising this Symposium. I am confident that this Symposium would be useful and constructive. Thank you.