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Speech at International Migrants Day Celebrations

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower , Yishun Avenue 7

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang
Chairman, Migrant Workers’ Centre

Mr Bennett Neo
Chairman, Migrant Workers’ Assistance Fund and Vice-Chairman Migrant Workers’ Assistance Forum

Mr Patrick Tay
Advisor, Nee Soon GRC

Mr Tan Meng
Chairman, Nee Soon East CCC

Ms Diana Chia
President, National Trades Union Congress

Friends from the Diplomatic Corps of China, Bangladesh and India
Ladies and Gentlemen, and especially to all our friends from the various different countries who are working here, welcome!

  1. A very good evening. I am really very pleased to join you here tonight in celebrating International Migrants Day1. I would like to thank the Migrant Workers’ Centre for organising this very important event that recognises the efforts and contributions of all of you who have come to Singapore.

    Appreciating Contributions of Foreign Workers
  2. Foreign workers, and there are many of you here, you make up about one-third of our workforce. You make important contributions across so many different jobs and capacities, whether in construction, in the shipyards, factories, schools, departmental stores, restaurants, hospitals and even our homes. You have all played a significant role in our progress and development. And I would like to just say that many Singaporeans I do know appreciate what all of you have contributed to our country, and I would like to once again extend a well-deserved “thank you” to all of you gathered here. Thank you very much!
  3. While we all fully welcome you here, and would do our utmost to look out for your welfare and well-being, from time to time, we would also encounter sad situations. For example, you would have read about the recent fire yesterday that took the lives of a few of our friends from Malaysia. I would like to extend my condolences to the families of the workers who lost their lives. We are also in touch with Migrant Workers’ Centre, which is extending help to the affected workers and the families of the deceased. The Home Team is investigating the tragic incident, and we’ll make sure that we find out what happened, and will take the necessary actions, where required.
  4. Of course you may know, from time to time, incidents and accidents can happen, sometimes there will also be negative experiences. But by and large, and I do know, from many of my conversations with you over the past few years, and from speaking to many of you on a random basis, many of you would agree that Singapore is a great place to be. We want to ensure that this experience remains.
  5. As you can see here tonight, the highlight of tonight’s celebrations is a heart-shaped installation made up of over 3,000 message cards which carry words of appreciation for the contributions of the foreign workers. I understand that the largest heart-shaped formation is expected to be entered into the Singapore Book of Records. This represents just a fraction of the Singaporeans who are grateful to your contributions. There are some who are more critical and negative, but we know that there are many more Singaporeans out there who share the same feelings of appreciation that are showcased here today.

    2014 Foreign Worker Survey
  6. It is important for us to track the feedback from the foreign worker community from time to time, so that we can improve our processes to make sure that your stay here is fulfilling, even as you contribute. We pick up stories and read about them both online and in print. However, sometimes these stories do not contain all the facts. My staff work with the various VWOs to deal with such cases very often. It is important for us to look beyond individual stories and track numbers to understand what most of you feel, what your problems are, and how we can do better. Earlier this year, the Migrant Workers’ Centre and the Ministry of Manpower jointly commissioned an independent survey company to conduct a comprehensive survey on the employment conditions and well-being of foreign workers in Singapore, covering 3,500 work permit holders and 500 S Pass holders. This was a follow on to the last survey done in 2011.

    Foreign Workers Satisfied with Working in Singapore
  7. I am glad to note that the survey findings, which will be released later today, paint a generally positive picture about foreign workers in Singapore. Not too dissimilar to the previous survey in 2011, about 90% of the foreign workers surveyed reported that they were satisfied with working in Singapore. A similar proportion of workers also said that they would recommend Singapore to their friends and relatives as a place for work. Good pay, relatively good working conditions, living conditions, and a sense of security continued to be the main reasons which were cited for this. More than 70% of workers surveyed planned to continue working with their current employers after their contracts have expired.

    Managing the Foreign Workforce
  8. Since 2008, an Inter-Ministry Committee has been overseeing a holistic framework that is in place to support the foreign worker community in Singapore. We take the issue of worker housing seriously and one of our key efforts is to provide an adequate supply of housing for our workers. Additionally, we also need to ensure the safety and well-being of our workers in their various types of accommodation. All types of foreign worker housing today are regulated under existing laws. For example, living space, fire and structural safety are actively jointly enforced by government agencies such as URA, SCDF, NEA and MOM.
  9. Over the next few years, there will be large purpose-built dormitories coming up. It is a more complex task to manage larger dormitories, so we need extra attention, for example, in terms of public health and safety, security measures and social and recreational facilities. You might therefore have heard about additional regulations that the Ministry of Manpower proposes to implement in 2015 for these larger dormitories. These regulations will build upon the existing laws that we will continue to uphold and ensure that such large dormitories are equipped with facilities such as minimarts, ATMs and outdoor and indoor gathering spaces, so that workers can have easy access to and reduce the need to travel far to meet their basic daily needs. This is better for productivity and ultimately also reduces the impact of the large dormitories on their surrounding communities.
  10. The Government also recognises the need for foreign workers to have their own space to socialise outside their dormitories. So, we have also been working to build dedicated Recreation Centres that have amenities such as extensive sports facilities, larger supermarkets and remittance services which individual dormitories might not have the scale to support. Currently, we have four dedicated foreign worker recreational centres in areas close to where foreign workers stay at Penjuru, Kaki Bukit, Woodlands, and Soon Lee. We intend to build four more – double of what we have today.

    Comprehensive Protection, Education and Outreach
  11. Besides the work that we are doing on the housing front, we also have comprehensive laws in place to make sure that all stakeholders, employers, employment agencies, dormitory operators play their part to look after the well-being of our foreign workers. For example, we require employers to pay salaries to their workers promptly and provide for the upkeep and maintenance of their workers. In turn, we also guide our foreign workers about the laws which protect them, through our public education and outreach efforts. This is done through guidebooks in native languages, safety orientation courses as well as regular newsletters and dormitory roadshows.

    Room for Improvement
  12. But we all know, no system can ever be perfect and certainly that’s not the case here in Singapore. I believe that there will be and continue to be room for improvement.
  13. To give an example, over the years, we have enhanced the in-principle approval letter or the “IPA” letter, so that it contains crucial employment-related information such as the worker’s basic salary components and occupation. It is very important that our workers receive these letters before they depart so that they know exactly what they signed up for, and they make informed choices about whether to take up employment in Singapore . However, the survey revealed that a sizeable proportion of non-Malaysian foreign workers did not receive their IPA letters, or that these were not in their native language.
  14. This failure to receive IPA letters before coming here could in turn give rise to employment issues downstream. Although I am heartened that about 94% of foreign workers said in the survey that their working conditions in Singapore were consistent with the promises made in their home countries, this is nonetheless an area we will proactively address. My Ministry will issue reminders to all employers that it is mandatory that they send the IPA letters, including the one in native language, so that workers can understand and can agree to these conditions while they are still in their home countries. Failure to do so is a breach of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations, and carries a maximum financial penalty of $10,000. We will not hesitate to take action against employers who try to breach our rules.
  15. We have also committed to make it mandatory, in 2016, for employers to provide itemised payslips spelling out the basic salary, total allowances, and total deductions made; as well as to provide key employment terms in writing, to all their employees. This will make sure that all workers, including foreign workers, have access to records of their salary components, and also to be clear of their employment terms.
  16. MOM is and remains committed to protecting and upholding all workers’ rights and interests, whether local or foreign. We have been stepping up our enforcement efforts against employers who flout our rules, whether it is salary non-payment, unacceptable housing, collection of kickbacks and so on. We also have policies to allow victimised workers to change employers and to continue working in Singapore while their cases are being investigated. All this has been made possible by the tireless efforts of many of my colleagues in the Ministry of Manpower. I am particularly encouraged to know from the survey results that about 90% of foreign workers believe that the Ministry of Manpower is fair and will be able to help them, should they face problems with their employers. So let me say it to you personally, if you have problems at work, if you have problems with your employers, do not hesitate to come forward. We will be fair to both workers and employers and we will do our best to understand the problems and issues, and we will not hesitate to take action where it is required. This applies to all our Singaporean workers as well, if you do face issues at work.
  17. I know that some of our Embassy counterparts are here and many of them are actually very pleased about the welfare and conditions in which their fellow countrymen are living and working under while they are here. In fact, just one and a half weeks ago when I was in Indonesia speaking to my counterpart, the Minister of Labour in Indonesia, he also expressed that he is happy with the conditions of many of his compatriots here. While there are issues from time to time, but the numbers are very small by comparison.

  18. So let me conclude by once again conveying all our heartfelt appreciation for the contributions of foreign workers. Let us continue to work together to make Singapore a better place for all. On that note, I wish you a happy International Migrants Day, and hope you enjoy the programme for tonight. Thank you very much.

1 Actual day is on 18 December