Tuesday 14 May 2013

Migrant Workers' Centre expanding to help more foreign workers

By 2014, the Migrant Workers' Centre will have a larger head office, a Geylang branch and a help centre for migrant fishermen
By Tan Qiuyi, Channel NewsAsia, 12 May 2013

The Migrant Workers' Centre is expanding operations to help more foreign workers in Singapore.

By 2014, it will have a larger head office, a Geylang branch and a help centre for migrant fishermen.

According to the Manpower Ministry, there are close to 1.1 million rank-and-file foreign workers in Singapore as of December 2012, not counting employment pass holders.

The Migrant Workers' Centre says the number seeking help is growing.

Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of Migrant Workers' Centre, said: "We were helping about 1,200 a year in the beginning. Now we help about 1,500 workers. With some of the recent incidents, I think there is greater awareness of some of these dispute resolutions and what we can do to help the workers."

Cases like the illegal strike by SMRT bus drivers from China last year have highlighted disputes between foreign workers and their employers.

The Migrant Workers' Centre says its key objective is to make sure those who need help get it early.

By year end, the centre will have a new, larger head office along Serangoon Road, catering to Indian and Bangladeshi workers.

The existing Migrant Workers' Centre on Rangoon Road will continue operations till early next year.

On top of the services it is already providing, Channel NewsAsia understands the new centre will also have a temporary shelter that can house up to 12 workers.

And in January next year, a second branch will open in Geylang, closer to the workers from China living there.

A Seafarer's Welfare Centre will open at the Jurong Fishery Port in the second half of 2014 to help migrant fishermen who currently do not have easy access to help on employment-related issues.

The centre is also working with authorities to pilot a job placement scheme for workers who are stranded and jobless in Singapore - either due to pay disputes or pending injury claims.

Mr Yeo said: "It's important also for us to understand the problem - the problem that workers have to stay here is because they still have disputes pending.

"It is important for us not only to just ask MOM to expedite the process, but at the same time to provide them with shelter and at the same time, see how we can help them have a temporary job for them to tide over the difficult time."

Mr Yeo said the job placement scheme can start as soon as relevant cases come up.

Currently, only those who are prosecution witnesses in the Manpower Ministry's investigations are allowed to find work in the country.

* Migrant Workers' Centre opens second help centre in Geylang
More free legal advice offered to migrant workers
Channel NewsAsia, 22 Sep 2013

Migrant workers in Singapore will soon be able to get free legal advice on non-employment issues at a new help centre located in Geylang.

The centre, which was opened on Sunday, is the second of its kind run by the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) - a non-government organisation.

The free legal services are being offered by the MWC for the first time. It will be in the form of monthly clinics by the MWC in collaboration with the Pro Bono Services Office of the Law Society of Singapore.

At the launch of the Geylang help-centre, MWC said personal legal issues could have a negative effect on a worker's mental and emotional health, and this could in turn affect his ability to work.

MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said: "We recognise that many of them are not aware of the legal rights, and also our legal procedure. Whenever they have problems, some of them even take matters into their own hands. I think we should avoid this by providing more platforms or channels to assist them."

Mr Yeo said most migrant workers cannot afford to engage lawyers.

A typical consultation could easily cost them at least two months' salary. This is a big amount of money for them as many have also substantial debts to repay.

And migrant workers have welcomed the free legal aid.

"This will help me in future, as I would be able to understand Singapore law better, and to better defend my interest and rights," said Bian Wei Feng, a migrant worker from China.

The Law Society, which is working with the MWC at the new centre, has seen a steady number of migrant workers approaching them for help over the years.

Lim Tanguy, director of Pro Bono Services at The Law Society of Singapore, said: "We run the criminal legal aid scheme, and that is typically for cases where foreign workers (are) in some form of criminal trouble so we have been assisting them with free defense counsel."

The Law Society will be engaging lawyers to volunteer their services for MWC's legal clinic.

The legal advice service in the form of once-a-month clinics will be offered to migrant workers from next month.

Although the frequency may be adjusted based on demand, the Aljunied MRT is just about 100 metres away from the new Migrant Workers' Centre. During weekends, many China workers congregate on the field next to the MRT station. With this new location, more migrant workers can come to the centre for help.

Mr Yeo added MWC will continue to offer advice on employment-related issues.

So far, the Centre has managed more than 7,000 cases, and half of them involved workers from China. It's stepping up outreach efforts to them.

MWC is also beefing up its existing Rangoon Road centre.

It will be relocated to Serangoon Road next year, and the bigger centre will be able to accommodate and help more migrant workers. 


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