Friday 21 December 2012

Singapore will do more for foreign workers: Tan Chuan-Jin

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2012

ACTING Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin emphasised yesterday that the Government is neither pro-employer nor pro-worker but strives to balance the employer-worker relationship while protecting vulnerable workers.

However, in a blog post marking International Migrants' Day, he acknowledged that Singapore "can and will do more" for foreign workers here.

His post on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) blog follows a spate of industrial disagreements involving foreign workers. These include Singapore's first strike in decades by bus drivers from China.

With foreigners making up a third of the workforce, disputes between them and employers are inevitable, said Mr Tan.

But these should be handled through legitimate channels, he added, from raising the issue with bosses to approaching non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for help.

Calling on Singaporeans to recognise the contributions of migrant staff - from construction workers to service crew and maids - Mr Tan also cited recent moves by MOM to improve their lot. These include reviewing labour laws such as the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA), which was tightened earlier this year.

MOM is also stepping up education. It has drawn up a set of foreign worker housing standards to be disseminated to employers early next year. These standards will also be incorporated into the EFMA eventually, once the industry has had time to give feedback.

MOM is also working with an NGO - Migrant Workers' Centre - to produce an educational pre-departure video for migrant workers so they can be better informed of their rights and how to settle disputes.

And enforcement continues, with some 600 labour claims on issues such as unpaid salaries being processed every month. More than nine in 10 of such cases are settled within a month.

But even as MOM tries to do more for workers, it "cannot do it alone".

The onus is on employers to be responsible for their foreign workers and treat them fairly, said Mr Tan. "They must not simply look at the bottom line without caring for workers' welfare and well-being - this applies for local and migrant workers alike."

Singapore's economy will continue to tap foreign workers. Such employees - who may not be as familiar with the laws and avenues for help - are vulnerable and "their rights should and must be protected", he concluded.

Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, vice-president of migrant workers' rights group Transient Workers Count Too, acknowledged MOM's efforts to revise legislation to protect workers.

But they may not be adequate without "greater enforcement of laws on the ground", she said.

This does not just mean more raids or the like but also better handling of worker grievances by ministry officials, she added.

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