Working and living conditions of migrant Chinese construction workers in Singapore

Everyday HOME hears from foreign workers anecdotal reports of violations to their basic working and living conditions. HOME recognises the need to understand the actual facts of a working population that makes up 85% of the building and construction industry and have hence designed an empirical research study to capture the truth. HOME is hence investigating through a quantitative research study the living and working conditions of Chinese migrant workers who make up 200, 000 of the 300,000 foreign working population in building and construction. Despite their apparent protection under Singaporean labor laws, the working violations reported to HOME have included deception with recruitment fees leaving workers paying off debts for a long period of employment, withholding payments and late payments, forced signatures on documents that are not understood or translated, withholding relevant employment information (including payslips, leave entitlements), pressure to work on rest days and the confiscation of personal documents including one’s passport. The violations in living conditions include the lack of adequate ventilation, electricity, lack of running water and overcrowded living spaces. These violations inhibit migrant workers’ ability to seek justice in order to improve their situation and leave them vulnerable to exploitation. It appears that without accurate information, Singaporeans are not aware of the realities of working in the construction and building industry. There is not a united voice for these workers and therefore they have no power to demand equal rights.

The ‘Sustainable Population For A Dynamic Singapore’ whitepaper (2013) stipulates that foreign workers are a required sector of the Singaporean workforce in order for Singaporeans to be able to enjoy a good quality of life. “As Singaporeans upgrade themselves into higher-skilled jobs, more of the lower-skilled jobs will have to be done by foreigners” reported the population plan for Singapore. Despite the need for foreign workers, the report stated that Singapore does not want to “be overwhelmed by more foreign workers than we can absorb” as the island cannot accommodate too many and they will depress wages and reduce the incentive for firms to up skill their staff and raise productivity. They fear as the workforce growth starts to plateau by 2020, using local resources better is the only way to sustain the economy. Singapore is hence caught in a double bind, requiring the assistance of foreign workers yet not wanting these workers to affect the general workforce. It is therefore important to understand what this population are experiencing and ensure their basic rights are addressed for the benefit of Singapore’s future. It also explains the potential lack of adequate focus on this working population.

In order to gain a better understanding and to raise public awareness of the situation for migrant workers, data is currently being collected with another 100 surveys before we reach our 400 person sample. As each questionnaire must be entered we are calling on volunteers with experience in SPSS to help us enter the data to find out the true experiences of Chinese migrant workers living and working in Singapore.


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