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Legislative reform could improve foreign workers' lives: NGOs

Legislative reform could play a role in improving the lives of foreign workers in Singapore, say social activists and industry players.

SINGAPORE: Legislative reform could play a role in improving the lives of foreign workers in Singapore, say social activists and industry players.

They were responding to the report by the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot that was released on Monday.

The Committee had examined whether alleged poor employment and living conditions of foreign workers had been a cause of the riot in December 2013.

And while it concluded it was not the cause of the riot, the committee acknowledged there is still room for improvement in these areas.

Foreign workers often run into huge debts paying off recruitment agencies from their home countries.

And the non-government Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) says greater bilateral cooperation is needed between Singapore and source countries to regulate recruitment fees.

"Singapore should only approve the work permits of workers who have gone through legal recruitment channels in countries of origin.

“Even though hefty recruitment fees are paid in countries of origin, large amounts are often remitted to employers and recruiters based in Singapore as kickbacks.

“More oversight and enforcement in this area is needed in Singapore as the problem does not only reside in the country of origin," HOME said in a statement.

The Association of Employment Agencies agrees that bilateral agreements will inject consistency into the recruitment process so workers are better protected, with clearer information on areas such as terms of employment, rights and responsibilities.

But it feels this will be tough to enforce.

"We don't recruit from any one particular source; we are recruiting from so many countries,” said K Jeyaprema, President, Association of Employment Agencies. “So it would not be so easily achievable that we get all the source countries who send labour to Singapore to agree on any particular term that we are going to introduce."

Another proposal in the Committee's report is for employers to give annual increments to foreign workers.

But some say this is unlikely to happen if foreign worker levies keep rising.

"As long as employers are losing money by paying high levies, it is very, very unlikely that they would increase the wages of their migrant workers," said Jolovan Wham, Executive Director, HOME.

Employment agencies say pay for migrant workers has also been stagnant for many years.

Construction workers for example, are paid about $18 a day, and that has been the same for the past eight years.
 

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