Global perspectives: the issues facing migrant workers in Singapore
Luca Babovic, Liv Wage and Emi Cashman
Global perspectives is a unique course, developed by UWCSEA, which aims to make Grade 9 and 10 students more aware of the key personal social and global issues inherent in the UWC philosophy. Designed to strengthen critical thinking skills, this course teaches students to consider issues from a variety of perspectives and formulate educated opinions on a wide variety of issues. Below, Grade 10 students Luca Babovic, Emi Cashman and Liv Wage consider the issue of Singapore’s migrant workforce.
In a community such as Singapore, we see members of the migrant workforce everywhere. During the working week they are often seen completing exhausting manual labour tasks in the grueling sun, working in households across the nation or resting during their break time. We rarely stop and wonder exactly why they are here - why they’ve gone to so much trouble, left their country, and sacrificed time with their family and friends, to be here. Though coming to the prosperous Lion City may seem like a privilege, the reality is that working in the industry is a constant struggle for respect and basic rights.
In terms of the Singaporean economy, the migrant workers have been of a great advantage to the nation. In order to maintain and keep infrastructure abreast with other larger countries, the government decided to encourage the influx of international labour from countries such as Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, and Thailand. Among the many benefits of this strategy, the most encouraging one was that due to the weak exchange rates, employers could pay low wages that would still be of large value when converted into the respective domestic currencies. However, what was not taking into account was the collective sum of fees owed by the worker to cover the recruiting agents’ commissions and training and recruitment costs, which are often as much as $8000. This leaves employees in dept for years, forcing them to work overtime and minimise their own budget for weekly amenities. Very rarely we question what has been done to help the people who have for decades been forming the cornerstone of our host country’s infrastructural progress.
All across the nation there are organisations that work to provide support, such as food plans, or basic forms of education for the transient workers in Singapore. They aim to minimise exploitation and suffering, by raising awareness on many related issues, and publish stories of disrespected migrant workers without distinction between ethnicity, colour, gender, language or religion. They run on the principle that no worker should be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment. Their most effective work has been in recognising the gaps in laws and regulation protecting people working in the industry, and then making official proposals to close these gaps and forever improve the basic rights of those suffering. One of the most prominent of such changes are laws prohibiting employers from paying salaries late - a common issue that needed to be addressed quickly, and has been prevalent since the rise of the foreign worker industry. Slowly but surely people are starting to take action in whatever way they can. And while the mistreatment of foreign workers may continue to be an issue for many decades to come, the nation is slowly starting to open it’s eyes and see the ugly truth - something that with enough willpower, can eventually be eradicated.