As HOME has been granted consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), HOME is able to represent migrant workers at the UN level on the situation of migrant workers in Singapore and also for the countries who send workers to Singapore, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, China and Myanmar.
Over the past few years, HOME has submitted various UN Shadow Reports related to the situation of migrant workers to the UN (i.e. UPR reports (2010); Singapore CEDAW report (2012); Indonesia CEDAW report (2012), UPR mid- term report (2014), China CEDAW report (2014), all accessible at http://www.home.org.sg/research/reports.html ).
UN Shadow Reports can be written by civil society members in response to a State party signing and ratifying a United Nations Convention, which means that State has committed to observing the specified rights and obligations. The UN requires that every State party is expected to submit a national report every few years, showing the ways it has complied with the treaty obligations. At this time, non-governmental organisations are also able to submit Shadow Reports, highlighting to the UN Committee any gaps between what the States’ obligations are and what is happening in practice.
The Committee members read and discuss the States’ report – together with the shadow reports – to monitor member States’ compliance with each human rights treaty. The Committee then makes Recommendations and provides Concluding Observations about ways the State can further comply with its international obligations. States can be held accountable for failing to fulfil its international human rights obligations.
The role of HOME’s UN Team can be seen through the 2014 submission of a Shadow Report in response to China’s Convention on the Elimination on all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Report. HOME recommended to the UN CEDAW Committee that China change their definition of trafficking to include all victims of trafficking, in accordance with international standards. China’s existing definition of trafficking only includes women trafficked for the purpose of prostitution – and not trafficked by other means. However, HOME’s experience of Chinese migrant women in Singapore shows that trafficking indicators also exist in the labour migration process.
For instance, one migrant worker, who worked as a cleaner and odd jobber, reported that her employer threatened to use her passport to defame her in her hometown by saying she was working as a prostitute. The client said she faced coercion to provide some form of sexual service. She was concerned about rumours potentially finding their way to her village; the social consequences of such rumours would be severe due to the conservative village culture. She believed her husband would divorce her immediately, regardless of whether the rumours were true, because it would bring shame to the family name.
In another example, an unreasonable amount was deducted from this factory worker’s pay when she took one day of medical leave. Although she was declared unfit for work by her employer-approved medical doctor, the employer not only docked her pay for the day, but also took the opportunity to deduct a disproportionate amount. She believes that the action is illegal. She visited the company-appointed doctor after calling in sick to her supervisor and manager. Despite being given a medical leave certificate for one day by the company-appointed doctor, the company deducted around SGD160.00 from her pay. The company’s calculations were based on deducting two times her daily wage because it was a public holiday; it also included the foreign worker levy and a transport subsidy. She believed this was unfair because her daily wage, on average, was only SGD27.00. In addition, the company retained SGD100.00 a month from her wages, which the company says will be paid to her upon completion of her contract. The company has retained SGD1100 to date.
If China’s definition of trafficking complied with international standards, the coercion and exploitation of these women could be identified as trafficking. Unless these issues are highlighted at the UN level, the experiences of these migrant women might appear to be isolated cases of bad luck. However, HOME’s experience shows that indicators of trafficking – such as exploitation, debt bondage and coercion – are widespread among all migrant workers. Reporting at the UN level gives migrant workers a voice and allows organizations who assist migrant workers to advocate for their internationally recognized rights.
If you are interested in finding out what you can do to advocate for migrant workers at the UN, please join us on Tuesday December 9th for an information session at 8pm at HOME’s Geylang Office – 1 Lorong 19 Geylang , #01-03, Singapore 388487.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org