Bosses, treat your migrant workers fairly
By Lin Wenjian, The Straits Times, 22 Dec 2011
Employers should continue to look after the welfare of migrant workers and treat them fairly, even as they tighten their belts in anticipation of an economic slowdown, Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said on Wednesday.
The Manpower Ministry (MOM) plans to amend the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act next year to hold employers more accountable for the basic rights and welfare of migrant workers under their charge, he said.
The amended Act will also strengthen the ministry's hand in dealing with errant employers, he added.
He made the comments in an entry on the MOM's blog to mark International Migrants Day last Sunday.
'I urge employers to continue to look after the welfare of the migrant workers under your charge, and to treat them fairly,' said Mr Tan, in the blog entry which paid tribute to migrant workers. 'We should show our appreciation to them as they are an integral part of our society and play an important role at that.'
The ministry had said earlier that changes will be made to the Act, but no timeframe was given.
Mr Tan did not give details about the amendments. But he said the ministry will be consulting key stakeholders on this, including non-governmental organisations.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, the ministry would say only that the review of the Act is under way, and more details will be revealed later.The Act is a wide-ranging one that encompasses issues concerning foreign workers - including maids - such as their salaries and accommodation here.
The main Act was last amended in 2007.
Local migrant workers' welfare group, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said it sent a proposal to the ministry in June, detailing the changes it would like to see.
Among them are tougher penalties for employers or employment agents who accept kickbacks from workers, or those who apply for work passes for these workers using false documents.
TWC2's vice-president, Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, said her group is also calling for the ministry to make it mandatory for employers to give a notice period of up to 30 days to workers before cancelling their work permits.
Currently, companies can cancel a work permit immediately and repatriate workers within seven days of the cancellation. Dr Noorashikin said having this rule in place ensures workers are not forcefully repatriated.
She added: 'The additional time will also allow them to sort out any outstanding issues they have or to seek alternative employment here.'
TWC2 would also like to see the Act amended to give foreign domestic workers 'more detailed protection'.
In particular, Dr Noorashikin is calling for a weekly day off, stipulated maximum daily work hours and a formula to calculate overtime pay for the approximately 196,000 maids here.
Currently, the Act states that employers must bear the costs of their maids' upkeep in Singapore and ensure that they receive adequate rest, among others.
Ms Bridget Tan, president of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), said she wants maids to be covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act, just like other migrant workers.
'We want to see equality in treatment for both migrant workers and foreign domestic workers, and in our view, the exclusion is discriminatory,' added Ms Tan, who said the ministry's intention to amend the Act is a positive move.
Employers and labour MPs, too, lauded the MOM's move.
Mr Zainudin Nordin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said migrant workers should be treated with respect and employers who ill-treat them should be punished accordingly.
'Happy and skilled workers are always good for the companies, industries and the economy as a whole,' he noted.
Mr Edwin Pang, executive director of the Migrant Workers Centre, proposed that the amendments should address incidents where employers try to get out of providing housing, meals and medical leave to their workers.
'We also hope to see action being taken against errant employers who make unauthorised salary deductions from their workers or who collude with unscrupulous employment agents.'