Wednesday 4 September 2013

Buddies network, 24-hour helpline to help migrant workers in Singapore

By Alice Chia, Channel NewsAsia, 2 Sep 2013

Migrant workers will soon be able to get easier access to help on work issues and disputes. This comes in the form of a new buddy network system and a 24-hour helpline.

Mr Nasiruddin, a 40-year-old from Bangladesh, has been working in Singapore for seven years and is glad at that he will be able to seek help more easily when it comes to work issues or disputes.

This is because the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) has set up a Dormitory Buddies Network. This comprises groups of volunteer dormitory residents who have experience working in Singapore and are better known amongst their countrymen living in the dormitory.

They will form a residents committee in their dormitories -- to serve as a voice for fellow residents.

Nasiruddin said: "Easier, we always working, always busy, cannot go to the Ministry of Manpower. We inform this committee, this committee settle for me or my other colleagues."

Apart from attending regular dialogues with MWC, the group will also help to detect early signs of potential disputes so that MWC can intervene at an early stage to help workers reach a fair resolution.

Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the MWC, said: "We would like to also see how we can proactively engage all the workers because I think for the last few years, we are like fighting fire, helping all the workers who are distressed.

"We hope to actually see how (we can) better engage them, have a better understanding of what's happening on the ground. I think if you look at a few cases in the past, sometimes it is too late when the matters become big, I think it is important for us to handle it when it is still small so that we can prevent damage."

They also have direct access to MWC if there are urgent issues, as well as provide workplace advisory services and facilitate engagement and awareness building activities among dormitory residents.

The pilot buddies network at Soon Lee Lodge comprises 10 residents, which include Bangladeshi, Myanmar nationals, and Indian workers.

MWC will continue to visit all major migrant worker housing facilities until the programme is rolled out in every dormitory.

It hopes to have similar networks in all the 38 purpose-built, large dormitories within a year's time.

The MWC has also set up a 24-hour helpline. Workers can use it to have their questions answered, report errant employment practices, and even request for urgent emergency humanitarian assistance.

Card sleeves bearing the helpline number will be distributed to all migrant workers upon entry into Singapore within a year for them to put their work permits. The card sleeve is available in English, Mandarin and Tamil.

The 24-hour helpline will be available by the first quarter of 2014.

Mr Yeo was asked if the initiatives were launched in response to the 2012 illegal strike by SMRT bus drivers from China.

He said: "No, I think it's not so much just only SMRT's case but we have seen a number of cases where migrant workers take matters into their own hands.

"I think it's important for us to raise the awareness, and to ensure that all migrant workers in Singapore understand that there are already well-established platforms and channels to actually help them to seek re-dress if they have any disputes with their employers, or in any way that they face any problems, whether it is in the workplace or in the place they live in."

Set up on April 26, 2009, the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) is a bipartite effort between the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation to improve the welfare of migrant workers in Singapore.

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