Tuesday 26 November 2013

Treat migrant workers well because it's right to do so

In her opening remarks at an event organised last Saturday by migrant workers' group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, or HOME, Professor Chan Heng Chee spoke on better protection of the welfare of workers. Here is an edited excerpt.
The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2013

JUST this month, People's Action Party MP Christopher de Souza announced in Parliament that he would introduce a Private Member's Bill on human trafficking and work with the Singapore Interagency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons. He said he wanted to "strongly and potently" address the issue and to criminalise the trafficking of people and minors for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced incarceration, slave labour and forced organ trafficking. I applaud him for his initiative.

To deal with the migrant workers' human rights, three parties have responsibilities. The hosting or receiving country has a definite responsibility by providing the guidelines through regulations and laws for the protection of the migrant workers' welfare. In Singapore, we have increasingly through law and requirements sought to improve the conditions and situation for the migrant workers.

Today, there are 211,000 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in our city-state. We have required that FDWs must be at least of a minimum age of 23 and have eight years of formal education (they must provide proof) which means they are older and less vulnerable. There is a Settling-In Programme and the Employers Orientation Programme. From December 2012, we introduced a Safety Agreement between the employers and the FDWs. This covers the cleaning of exteriors of windows as many accidents are a result of this.

A mandatory rest day has been introduced but employers may compensate their FDWs if there is a mutual agreement. Medical insurance is required. Although domestic workers are not covered by the Employment Act, FDWs can lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower and they will arrange a meeting between the employer and FDW. In cases of abuse, the cases, if reported, will be heard in court and penalties for the employers include fines and imprisonment. FDWs can only be employed for domestic chores at the residential addresses of their employment. Penalties for illegal deployment are a stiff $5,000 fine and permanent barring from employing FDWs.

In the end, laws and regulations are only one part of the answer. We cannot have a whole slew of laws regulating every behaviour. I believe Singaporeans would like to move to a situation of less regulation, not more regulation.

On the matter of foreign workers' rights, I believe greater emphasis must be placed on ourselves, on each individual. If we get this right, the treatment of FDWs would not be an issue.

It is our moral duty as human beings to treat others with dignity and respect. This applies to peer as well as subordinate, Singaporean and foreign. We should spread this awareness and talk about these values.

Singapore is a middle-class nation. As a people, we are more educated; the majority live well, some very well. Forty-eight per cent of those who are studying in a tertiary institution study overseas. This means we are a reasonably affluent society and country. It should be part of our sense of identity and a people as Singaporeans, that we are good people and we treat others with kindness and humaneness.

Visitors say Singaporeans are nice, pleasant. It is true and Singaporeans are helpful on the streets to strangers. Singaporeans too are not resentful about the State helping the poor, the elderly and the disabled. We have that sense of decency.

In some societies, it is a matter of great political debate, whether you should lend a helping hand to the less fortunate. We should cultivate deeper that sense of decency and extend it to how we treat migrant workers. It should not be the law that forces us to do so. We should treat them well, feed them adequately, allow rest time and abuse of workers should be ruled out. It must be values we consider important in our society.

The writer is Singapore's Representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

S'poreans have 'duty to be kind to foreign workers'
By Tham Yuen-c, The Sunday Times, 24 Nov 2013

Singapore has laws to protect foreign workers' rights but citizens also have a responsibility to be kind and humane towards them, said Professor Chan Heng Chee yesterday.

Most people here already have a sense of decency, she said in opening remarks at a migrant workers' group event, and would help strangers in need and not begrudge the Government helping the poor and elderly.

This attribute should be cultivated and extended to how migrant workers are treated, according to Prof Chan, who is Singapore's Representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

"It should not be the law that forces us to do so. We should treat them well, feed them adequately, allow rest time, and abuse of workers should be ruled out," she said in an opening speech at an event organised by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, or HOME.

The event was held to train lawyers and volunteers from non-governmental organisations in advocating for migrants' rights.

Ms Chan said that Singaporeans by and large treat their maids well, and it was a small group of errant employers who were the problem.

"But we must not have that group, even a small group, in the future," she said.

She listed two other parties as having a role to play in ensuring migrant workers' rights - the host country and the "sending" country.

Host governments need to pass laws and regulations to protect the welfare of migrant workers, said Prof Chan, who is also an ambassador-at-large.

In Singapore for instance, the 211,000 domestic helpers must, among other conditions, be at least 23 years old, attend a settling-in programme, and be given a mandatory rest day once a week.

She said that "sending" countries should ensure that those who are underage are not issued with falsified passports saying they are older.

The day-long event at Riverview Hotel also saw participants share their experiences in human trafficking and migration law.

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