By Arjuna s/o Segathesan
Arjuna was an intern at HOME in May and June 2014.
Today is my last day at HOME. The past month has been an unparalleled eye-opening experience. Under the constant guidance of the HOME staff, I have learnt much about the plight of migrant workers in Singapore. Interacting with migrant workers, I have discovered how different their lives are from the general public’s perception about them. In my time here, I have noticed that one issue keeps cropping up in all the cases that HOME encounters – the vulnerability of migrant workers.
The workers that seek help at HOME generally come from less developed Asian countries. They are often born into poor families and are drawn to Singapore’s wealth and job opportunities. These workers are seldom prepared for the harsh working conditions that they are subjected to in Singapore. Also, many workers become victims to trafficking.
I had the opportunity to interview Selvan and Kalai (the workers featured in the story ‘Deported, not Protected’). Their story affected me in a deep personal level. These were workers who were just about my age and yet their lives had turned out to be so different from mine.
Selvan and Kalai, like many other workers who come to Singapore, were greatly disadvantaged by their poverty and lack of familiarity with English. Eager to secure jobs in Singapore to provide a better life for their families, these workers are easily deceived into paying exorbitant recruiment fees to agents, which then render them more susceptible to coercion, forced labour and debt bondage. For example, many workers are forced to sign substitute contracts with less favourable terms, sometimes without seeing the contract in their own language. The workers rely on the information provided by employers and recruiters, and often have limited knowledge of their legal rights. In many cases, these vulnerabilities lead to exploitation by recruitment agents and employers, both in the workers’ home countries and in Singapore.
I am heartened that organisations such as HOME assist workers in Singapore. It is also promising that the proposed anti-trafficking bill seeks to protect migrant workers from becoming victims of trafficking. However, more should be done. It is crucial that the proposed anti-trafficking bill adequately protects vulnerable migrant workers from debt bondage, forced labour and exploitation. Only then will unscrupulous agents and employers be forced examine their recruitment practices and stop exploiting vulnerable migrant workers for profit.