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Speech at "Caring for our Foreign Workers, Appreciation Dinner for our Partners"

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, Ministry of Manpower Services Centre

Distinguished Guests
Partners and Friends,

  1. Weekends are rest days for most people. But for many of you, weekends are for you to engage and help our foreign workers.
  2. Today, we hold this simple event to thank you sincerely -employers, employment agencies, dormitory operators, NGOs, foreign worker ambassadors and our tripartite partners. All of us here share a common purpose – to provide a safe and fair environment for our foreign workers to live and work.
  3. We now have almost 1 million work permit holders. Of these, about 700,000 are non-domestic foreign workers.They help to build our homes, schools, hospitals, roads, parks and many other amenities. 
  4. They also help to clear our rubbish, clean our neighbourhoods, work in our factories, hotels, hospitals, shopping malls, public transport, childcare centres, F&B outlets, and the list goes on.
  5. In appreciation of their service and contribution, the least we should do is to treat them graciously, and ensure that their well-being is taken care of properly. And this begins even before they arrive in Singapore.

    MOM’s approach to helping Foreign Workers
  6. First, we help them to settle-in. We inform workers of their employment terms and conditions before they depart from their home countries. For those who will be working in construction, we require them to undergo construction safety courses conducted in their home countries, because their safety is important to them, their families, and us. 
  7. When they register for work passes upon arrival, they will each receive a guidebook, in their native language, on their employment rights, social norms and safe work practices. They will also be given a card sleeve containing channels of assistance, including the MOM helpline and the contact number of their embassies. 
  8. From the second half of 2018, first-time foreign workers will also attend a settling-in-programme to learn about Singapore’s social norms, their employment rights and obligations, our laws, and where and how to seek help. It will provide an opportunity for these workers who are new to Singapore to ask questions and clarify their doubts directly with the trainers. We will do it in stages and start with all first-time non-Malaysian construction workers.
  9. Second, we ensure they are treated fairly at work.
  10. A vast majority of employers are responsible and do take good care of their foreign workers. In fact, many foreign workers have worked here for many years. About one in two, for more than 5 years, and about one in five, for more than 10 years. 
  11. Unfortunately, there will always be some employers who do not act responsibly. They fail to provide proper accommodation, pay salary on time or compensate their workers for work injury medical leave or pay-outs. We take strong actions against such irresponsible employers. Likewise, employment agencies who violate our laws are also taken to task. 
  12. We have strengthened our laws and policies over the years. In 2011, under the Employment Agencies Act, the fine for operating without a valid license was raised from a maximum of $5,000 to $80,000 for first-time offenders. We also require all key appointment holders to attend a certification course and all agency staff to register with MOM before they are allowed to start work. Our employment agencies must also meet stringent license conditions that ensure minimum service standards, such as ensuring that their foreign worker clients receive their In-Principal Approval letter, at least 3 days before departure.
  13. Licensed agencies in Singapore also cannot collect more than one month of salary for each year of service, capped at 2 months. This is to protect vulnerable workers who may not have the bargaining power. With these measures in place, we have seen cases of overcharging decrease from 36 in 2014 to 17 in 2017.
  14. In 2012, under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, we have also raised the penalties for the illegal importation and supply of foreign labour, collection of kickbacks, and illegal recovering of employment costs from foreign workers. Earlier this month, a shell company director was sentenced to five strokes of the cane and 50 months’ jail for illegal labour importation. 
  15. In 2014, we raised the penalty for failure to pay salary under the Employment Act, from a maximum of $5,000 to $15,000. Last year, we mandated itemised pay slips and key employment terms in writing. They give employees greater clarity and assurance on their regular salary components as well as their main employment terms and benefits. They also help employers prevent misunderstandings and minimise disputes at the workplace.
  16. In April this year, we strengthened our dispute management mechanisms with the setup of the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). In the first six months of operations, we received 2,500 salary claims from foreign workers. Of the claims that have concluded mediation, about 90% recovered their unpaid salaries in full. For those whose employers were facing financial difficulties, TADM helps them to recover salaries from the main contractor or apply for ex-gratia payments from the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC). In the rare instances when employers are able to pay but refuse to pay, MWC guides these foreign workers to take legal action for salary recovery. This is done commonly through the Writ of Seizure and Sale process, by seizing the employer’s assets for auction.
  17. All foreign workers with valid salary claims are also allowed to change employers. In the first six months of 2017, about 600 of such foreign workers indicated that they wished to change employers and of these, about half found new jobs in Singapore.
  18. For foreign workers who suffered from injury at work or as a result of work, we protect them under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA). In the first nine months of this year (Jan-Sep), over 99.9% of the 11,500 injured workers had their cases successfully resolved. The remaining 0.1% of cases were not resolved because the employers had failed to purchase work injury compensation (WIC) insurance and were facing financial difficulties.
  19. MOM takes such offences seriously and prosecutes such employers and debars the companies and individual directors from hiring foreign workers, until they compensate their workers. Meanwhile, we work with MWC to provide these workers with food, housing and interim financial assistance such as calling cards and EZ-link top ups for their daily needs. 
  20. Third, we help take care of their well-being and social needs.
  21. We have improved the accommodation standards for foreign workers significantly in recent years. In January 2016, we enacted the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA) for large dormitories with 1,000 or more residents, putting in place comprehensive measures and quality standards including gym facilities, recreational rooms, minimarts and other amenities.
  22. In January this year, Factory Converted Dormitories (FCDs), which house less than 1000 workers, are required to comply with additional conditions, including the provision of Wi-Fi and a sickbay.
  23. Since 2014, MOM conducted about 5,000 inspections and worked closely with agencies such as NEA, URA and SCDF. In the past 2 years, we completed 100% inspections of all Factory Converted Dormitories and Construction Temporary Quarters in Singapore. Public complaints on housing conditions have come down, from about 580 for the whole of 2014 to about 440 for the first 11 months of 2017.
  24. Working with our partner agencies, we have also facilitated the setting up of recreation centres for our foreign workers to socialise and play sports like basketball, football and cricket. There are also amenities such as remittance services, and supermarkets.
  25. Beyond physical spaces and amenities, MOM is partnering mobile app developers (Aptiv8 and Genytek), to develop two mobile applications for the convenience of our foreign workers. These apps will provide a whole suite of retail offerings, promotions and services catering to their needs, including online shopping and remittance services. They will also serve as a platform for foreign workers to access MOM-related content and provide feedback to us in their native languages. These apps will be launched by the end of the year.
  26. And finally, when it is time for the foreign workers to return home, we require the employers to bear the cost. We hope that as our foreign workers reunite with their families, they will be able to use the money they have earned and saved here to provide a better life for their loved ones.

    Working in Partnership
  27. In summary, much has been done and we are committed to keep improving our care and support for foreign workers, especially those in distress. In this regard, we are fortunate to have many partners who share our commitment and are prepared to work together in the interest of our foreign workers. For illustration, I will highlight two of them.
  28. For foreign workers who come to TADM for help on salary issues, some may also require food and accommodation. We work with MWC to provide food, shelter and emotional support to these workers. As mentioned earlier, in cases where foreign workers are unable to recover their salaries fully, we also count on MWC to assist in the Writ of Seizure and Sale process, or provide ex-gratia to help these workers tide over the short term. MWC also helps them find new employment by asking employers in their wide network of contacts. Thank you, MWC. 
  29. For workers with work injuries, our Work Injury Compensation Department works closely with Healthserve. With their pool of trained Case Workers and volunteer counsellors, Healthserve provides the much-needed emotional support while MOM focuses on helping the worker get his work injury compensation speedily. Healthserve also works with medical social workers and hospital doctors to care for the injured worker, and on occasions, have gone all the way to accompany the worker back to his hometown. They also operate three clinics at various locations and offer subsidised health services to foreign workers. They have amazing support from healthcare professionals and a big volunteer group. Thank you, Healthserve.
  30. There are many more of you here tonight (employers, employment agencies, dormitory operators, NGOs, foreign worker ambassadors and our tripartite partners) who have made and continue to make a big difference to the lives of our foreign workers in Singapore. Sorry that I am not able to acknowledge your contributions individually. I thank you, all.

  31. In conclusion, working in partnership is win-win-win for MOM, our partners, and most importantly, for our foreign workers. I hope we can continue to tap on the resources and expertise of one another, so that we can do more together to better care for our foreign workers.
  32. Thank you again, dear partners. Have a great evening.