In the wake of the Little India riots, one of the things that has been attributed as the cause of the riots is the frustrations felt by foreign workers on their working and living conditions in Singapore. In the light of this, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam visited a foreign workers’ dormitory in Yishun and was quoted as saying that the foreign workers “have no complaints about working conditions, about their salaries, about their employers".
Basically, he is saying foreign
workers are not exploited in Singapore.
Come on, foreign workers are so routinely exploited in
Singapore it's almost the norm. Their salaries are hideously low, their working
conditions dangerous, their living conditions bad, and in any dispute between
them and their employers, the pro-business Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will
almost always side with the employers. That's the image Singapore has,
and it's one that not entirely incorrect.
Take the examples of the past year
for instance. Foreign workers had to go on strike to improve their living
conditions, and even just to get their pay. In one case, foreign workers whose
contracts were ending were not paid for months and they had to strike to force the
employer to pay them. Once it made the news, the said employer's money problems
suddenly disappeared and the workers were paid promptly. The employer was
suspected to have intended to deport the workers immediately once their
contracts were up without paying them a single cent of what they were owned.
In most countries that provide Singapore's
low-cost workers, Singapore's reputation as an employer is so low, workers would
not want to come here if they have a choice. We are the third or fourth choice on their list and it is a totally understandable position to take when the
Singapore Management University (SMU) conclude that 65% of injured foreign workers
in Singapore had been threaten with premature repatriation by their employers.
So I find it
strange that a minister from the Singapore government is trying to sell a
picture that Singapore do not exploit foreign workers. Even to a Singaporean like me, that's total nonsense. And if Singaporeans are not
buying that, you can just imagine what they think of it in other countries.