Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Foreign workers get new emergency shelter at Serangoon Road

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2014

A FOREIGN workers advocacy group backed by the labour movement has set up its first emergency shelter, offering a temporary bed for workers who may have problems with their bosses over pay or other work issues.

The new shelter, opened by the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) yesterday, can house eight workers in its new office in a two-storey shophouse in Serangoon Road.

Previously, foreign workers who needed temporary shelter were put up overnight on couches at the group's offices in Geylang and Little India before being sent to workers' dormitories.

This was the practice even though the offices were not officially approved by the authorities to be used as workers' quarters.

The group is now leasing 48 beds from a private dormitory operator to house workers receiving help.

The new shelter, about the size of three five-room flats, has beds and rooms for recreation and counselling.

By March, the MWC will also start a 24-hour hotline for foreign workers.

Its chairman, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, said the shelter's proximity to the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) office in Bendemeer Road - some 2km away - will make it easier for the ministry to refer foreign workers in distress to it.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general and MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC stressed that the opening of the shelter was not related to the Little India riot last month.

The shelter is opening its doors following an increase in distress calls that the MWC has received from foreign workers in the past few years.

In 2011, it helped about 1,500 workers. Last year, the number of cases more than doubled to nearly 3,800. Most of the cases involved salary disputes and injury claims, Mr Yeo said, without giving a breakdown.

To reduce these work-related disputes, the labour MP said that NTUC will push for bosses to use standard contracts that spell employment terms out clearly.

"We already have it for foreign domestic workers. I don't see why we can't have it for all foreign workers," Mr Yeo said.

He also wants MOM to make it compulsory for companies to give pay slips to workers within a year, rather than the two-year timeline that MOM has indicated, given the help that the Government is giving to firms.

"Without proper records, it is difficult to resolve salary disputes," he said.

He also hopes that worker advocacy groups can be involved in resolving disputes instead of merely referring cases to MOM, and that MOM will make it mandatory for bosses to send foreign workers for approved training courses before their work passes are renewed.

The shelter was unoccupied on its first day of operation yesterday, but some foreign workers were watching TV and playing carrom in the air-conditioned recreation room.

Dormitory maintenance worker Manirul Islam, 31, said that he came to know about the MWC through word of mouth.

"This place is free and I will ask other workers to come here if they have problems," said the Bangladeshi, who has been working in Singapore for seven years.

Foreign worker advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) chief executive Bridget Tan said that running a shelter differs from leasing beds from private dormitories.

"Shelters need to provide emotional support and counselling, as the workers may have some form of trauma. This is something that dorm operators cannot provide."


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