To boost its economic development, Singapore's government liberalized its foreign labor recruitment policies to meet the needs of industries in areas such as domestic, construction, and shipyard work, as well as the service sector. However, the liberalization of its recruitment policies is not matched by adequate social support.

Challenge

Singapore Migrant Workers
Flickr / williamnyk / Hard Hat / CC BY - NC 2.0 

Migrant workers are among the most marginalized groups in Singapore. There are very few NGOs in Singapore that engage in rights-based advocacy or provide legal aid to migrant workers (of which there are approximately 856,000 in a population of 5 million). To boost its economic development, Singapore's government liberalized its foreign labor recruitment policies to meet the needs of industries in areas such as domestic, construction, and shipyard work, as well as the service sector. However, the liberalization of its recruitment policies is not matched by adequate social support. Even with some improvements over the years, existing laws continue to discriminate against migrant workers. Many of these workers are also unaware of their respective embassies or the relevant Singaporean government agencies. Due to both political interests and lack of political will, embassies and government agencies are unable to respond satisfactorily to the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers. Some of the problems encountered include:

  • Unpaid or irregularly salary payments
  • Unequal remuneration of labor (i.e. Domestic workers are not given the same rights as other employees in comparable sectors)
  • Unsafe work environments and overwork
  • Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse
  • Forced labor, debt bondage, and poor accommodations

Program Summary

The proposed project aims to contribute to the process of social reform of the rights of migrant workers in Singapore by raising public awareness, assisting migrant workers seeking redress for human rights violations, lobbying relevant government agencies, and increasing the participation of migrant workers in these processes. It includes three objectives:

  1. Making representations to the authorities on behalf of workers whose rights have been violated.
    • Activity A: Face-to-face consultations, writing and sending emails, making phone calls
    • Activity B: Attending hearings and mediation sessions
    • Activity C: Conducting and preparing for meetings to discuss cases
    • Activity D: Making legal representations on behalf of workers
  2. Providing employment and legal advice to migrant workers
    • Activity A: Outreach to workers at areas where they gather
    • Activity B: Face to face and phone consultations with workers
    • Activity C: Capacity building workshops for migrant workers on human rights issues
  3. Take part in processes to institute change in terms of laws, policies and awareness of migrant worker issues
    • Activity A: Case documentation
    • Activity B: Research¬†
    • Activity C: Meetings with government officials
    • Activity D: Media engagement

Impact

The impact will be seen primarily in two different forms:

  1. Awareness raising and change in policy. A change in attitudes and behaviour will only happen when there is awareness of the issue for which we are advocating. Through the process of documentation and research, we aim to provide facts and analyses of the issues affecting migrant workers and publicizing this information. We will issue press releases and letters to the press and engage the media on issues affecting migrant workers. We will also hold one high level meeting with senior government officials to discuss issues affecting migrant workers to create change in policies, practices and attitudes of government officials.
  2. Access to Justice. We will provide legal advice and aid to at least 1500 migrant workers over a one year period, many of whom may not have access to justice and legal aid. By working on these cases, highlighting them and interacting regularly with government authorities, and publicising these cases through the media, we believe that this will have an impact on policies and practices affecting migrant workers. This project will have an impact of the fundamental rights of workers and also affect non governmental checks to government powers. This is because the project will monitor the effectiveness in which laws and policies are implemented which will have a direct impact on the rights of migrant workers.

Anticipated Issues

We anticipate two distinct challenges in the implementation of this program:

  1. Xenophobic backlash from the public because we are advocating for the rights of low wage foreigers; and
  2. Difficulties accessing justice for migrant workers due to poor social support facilities for them

Partners

We will work with the following partners:

  • Law Society of Singapore
  • Transient Workers Count Too (NGO in Singapore)
  • Healthserve (NGO in Singapore)
  • UN Women

Program Details

Not Available
Partner
East Asia & Pacific
Singapore
Government, Human Rights