When right is not really right with migrant worker laws

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Singapore needs to work on enforcing the rights of migrant workers, not just informing them of their rights, said the President of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Russell Heng.

Responding to the Little India Riot COI, Heng said today that TWC2 welcomes its recommendations that more can be done for migrant workers’ welfare.

But Heng emphasised that the Singapore employment processes for migrant workers are “far more complex than a section in the COI Report can do it justice.”

While Singapore has laws to protect them, he said there are still shortcomings that need to be addressed.

He referred to several examples on their website.

For instance, TWC2 said hundreds of migrant workers are paid in cash stuffed in re-used envelopes, and they will not be able to verify if they have been shortchanged.

This problem stems from the fact that employers are not obliged to give workers proper pay slips.

TWC2 also claimed that many employers often neglect injured workers.

“Employers often terminate injured workers as quickly as possible to avoid further costs, such as the monthly levy.

“[Sometimes] the injured worker is held back at the worksite and not sent to hospital till after working hours, so that the hospital’s time-stamp will imply that the accident didn’t happen at work,” TWC2 wrote on their website.

When it comes down to wages, TWC2 said enforcement is lacking.

The organisation had cases of migrant workers’ salaries being reduced without prior agreement. TWC2 noted that the employer was not persecuted- although such employers could be fined up to $10,000 under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

Earlier on, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) has also pointed out problems with the current employment law pertaining to these workers.

“The unilateral right of an employer to cancel work permits needs to be curbed and the worker’s right to switch employers freely has to be guaranteed. Without these changes, workers will remain reluctant to file cases of abuse,” the president, Jolovan Wham said.

Singapore must re-examine the present laws and regulations that have failed to protect these workers’ welfare, Heng added.

On the bright side, he said he appreciated the COI’s proposal to improve facilities at the Little India area and communication between workers and police officers patrolling Little India.