Tag Archives: foreign worker

9 in 10 foreign workers satisfied?

For its International Migrants’ Day celebrations this year, the Ministry of Manpower and Migrant Workers’ Centre released the results of a wide scale quantitative study involving 4000 migrant workers.  The major findings of this report are as follows:

1) 9 in 10 FWs (87.7% of WP holders and 90.7% of S Pass holders) were satisfied with working in Singapore.

2) 85.7% of WP holders and 93.4% of S Pass holders would recommend Singapore as a place to work. Good pay, good working and living conditions, and sense of security were some commonly cited reasons.

3) More than 7 in 10 FWs (76.9% of WP holders and 71.4% of S Pass holders) planned to continue working with their current employers after their contracts have expired.

This is not a new study; in 2011, a similar survey was conducted which produced similar findings. As was the case with the 2011 study this current study has several methodological limitations which have affected its validity, reliability and objectivity, thus compromising the value of the results. The lack of key information was a major impediment in assessing the accuracy of the data provided in the report. For instance, how ‘satisfaction’, ‘good prospects’ and ‘sense of security’  are defined by the researchers, is not indicated in the study. It is also unclear what ‘good pay’ means. Without defining these terms and relating them to other factors (e.g. working conditions), it becomes meaningless as a research concept.

Demographic details of the sample such as gender, job sector, types of accommodation, length of stay, and nationality are not provided, even though this is basic data found in any published research. Without relating crucial demographic information of the respondents to the findings, the conclusions drawn are weak, erroneous and at best, superficial.  This missing data is crucial for accurate interpretation of the data collected. There was no information on how the interviewers recruited the respondents, nor was there a report on how statistical methods were used.

The report also claimed that the results are based on a random sample of the workers, when in actual fact, it was a convenience sample. This error creates substantial bias in the interpretation of the results. The questionnaire used in the study was also not published.

Crucial data on actual salary, debts owed, and placement fees which directly impacts the employment conditions of the workers are not captured even though low wages and high placement fees are the two biggest reasons workers cite for not recommending Singapore as a place to work. The different employment conditions across sectors such as cleaning, shipyard and construction work are also not factored into the findings.

It was also reported that 80.2% of work permit holders would choose to renew the contracts with their current employers, and this was an indication that they were happy with their employers and their employment situation. However, the reasons for renewing the contract were not revealed in the report. Workers may choose to extend their employment in Singapore with the same employer because work permit terms and conditions do not allow them to switch employers. Underlying conditions such as low wages, high placement fees and the additional cost of returning to their countries of origin and back to Singapore for work again often influence many migrant workers to choose to work beyond 1 contractual term. Even though 77.4% of work permit holders reported having a copy of their contract, it is not clear if the written contact is in the FW’s native language.

Conducting studies on any group of people requires content knowledge of the target population to identify relevant research questions, and the operationalization of key concepts; it should also allow for critical discussion of the findings, based on empirical evidence that is reliable. While we encourage the interest MOM has shown in learning more about the socio-economic situation of migrant workers, the study it commissioned could have been more rigorous as it did not fulfill basic social scientific and publishing standards; this should have been achievable, given the amount of resources it has compared to independent think tanks and NGOs.


Campaigning for victims’ rights: #StopTraffickingSG

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a violation of human rights. Every year men, women and children are deceived or coerced into leaving their homes and moving to Singapore only to end up in jobs and working conditions they did not expect. However, even after discovering that they have been deceived, many of them find it difficult to leave because of huge debts they own to recruiters, or because they face nothing but poverty in their home countries. These men, women and children may also be physically, psychologically, and sexually abused, and have to work long hours with inadequate rest. They may also be verbally abused or threatened by their employers and recruiters.

A few months ago Singaporean MP Mr Christopher De Souza proposed to draft a Private Member’s Bill dedicated to combating human trafficking. HOME was present at public consulations held The aim is to present the Bill in parliament in November 2014. HOME welcomes the new Bill, and hopes it will be a significant step in combating human trafficking in Singapore.

HOME, together with other Singaporean Non-Governmental Organisations AWARE, TWC2, Healthserve and MARUAH has organised the StopTraffickingSG Campaign, which will run from now until the presentation of the Bill in Parliament.

The StopTraffickingSG campaign aims to create more awareness on Human Trafficking issues in Singapore, and to urge the government to adopt a victim-centred approach in the drafting of the Bill on Prevention of Human Trafficking. The campaign organisers feel that without this, the Bill will not be sufficiently effective in combating Human Trafficking.

StopTrafficking SG recommends the following to be considered:

  1. Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counselling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is on-going.
  1. Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked. 
  1. Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is on-going.

Victim’s rights need to be taken into consideration to ensure detection and prosecution of traffickers and trafficking-related crimes. If not, many victims will opt to return to their home countries without making a formal complaint to the authorities, rendering the Bill ineffective.

At the moment, trafficked victims are often reluctant to file complaints and claim justice. Investigations and legal proceedings may take several months or even up to two years before being resolved, during which time the victims are obliged to remain in Singapore. It is not guaranteed they will have the option to work during investigations, and many, being the breadwinners of their families, can simply not afford to stay to file a complaint. Sometimes victims are even prosecuted for being undocumented immigrants, or for working illegally, often unknowingly and due to the actions of their traffickers. The victim’s fear for the authorities stops them from seeking help.

Inclusion of victim’s rights will also align Singapore’s laws with international standards. A clear framework to protect victims of trafficking in Singapore strengthens relations with our neighbours, who are the main source countries of victims trafficked through and to Singapore.

Guaranteeing the  victims’ safety, livelihood and sustenance in the Bill will give victims of Human Trafficking the incentive to report, identify and testify against perpetrators. This will aid the effective prosecution of employers and recruiters involved in trafficking persons into Singapore, and in turn assist the destruction of trafficking syndicates as well as bring justice to victims and reduce crimes that threaten the security of Singapore.

Visit the Campaign website, for updates and Human Trafficking Stories: http://stoptraffickingsg.wordpress.com/

Or find StopTraffickingSG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Stoptraffickingsg

Please sign our Petition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of Trafficked Persons in Singapore. Everyone with a valid address in Singapore is eligible to sign, regardless of nationality.

Read here HOME’s full response to the proposed Bill: Position Paper on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill,

Want to learn more about what Human Trafficking is? Check out these websites with useful information:

United Nations


Deported, not protected


Selvan and Kalai were deceived by an agent, threatened by their employer and worked for weeks for no pay. Now, they are accused of working illegally. Kalai must leave Singapore this week, empty-handed. HOME has been assisting these workers with their cases.

Living in Sri Lanka, where the economy has been ravaged by years of civil war, Selvan and Kalai were desperate for jobs that would allow them to earn a living. When their best friend Ravi introduced them to an agent who promised them a high paying job at a Singapore hotel in return for $3,000 each, they borrowed money and pawned all of their families’ jewellery in the hope of a better life.

Selvan and Kalai arrived in Singapore to find that instead of the high-paying hotel job promised to them, they found themselves washing dishes at different restaurants for 12 hours a day. They were not allowed any rest, and given only one meal a day. None of Selvan’s and Kalai’s salary ever reached them; the restaurants paid their supervisor, Bala.

After weeks of unpaid labour in such harsh conditions, Selvan and Kalai were overcome with frustration. They asked Bala to send them back home, but their requests were brushed aside and they were instead promised that their salaries would be paid soon.

Unknown to Kalai and Selvan, they were working illegally as they had no work permits. One month later, Kalai was caught by MOM. Upon hearing of Kalai’s arrest, Selvan decided to surrender himself.

Deeply indignant about their plight, both Kalai and Selvan tracked down Bala’s whereabouts and confronted him, only to be met with threats to kill them and their families. Given that Bala knows precisely where they live in Sri Lanka from the information they supplied to get their jobs, even now, Kalai and Selvan live in constant fear that these threats will be realized.

Kalai and Selvan were victims of deception, with the agent in Sri Lanka abusing their financial vulnerability. They were forced to work for no pay, and threatened with violence when they questioned their employer. They did not receive a single cent for their work in Singapore. They say that they did not know that they were not supposed to be working in Singapore and were cheated by their employer. However, Kalai and Selvan have not been treated as victims of exploitation in Singapore. Rather, they have been investigated. Kalai will be deported from Singapore this week for overstaying his visa.

Kalai’s story highlights the difficulties faced by migrant workers who want to report exploitation by their employers. Faced with huge debts, threats, and the prospect of being deported rather than protected, exploited foreign workers like Kalai and Selvan have little incentive to report the abuses they face.

Kalai must leave Singapore this week and will not be allowed to return to Singapore to work for one year. He will leave empty handed. As Kalai says, he has not even paid for the t-shirt that he is wearing. Kalai is left with dreams of a better life shattered, huge debts, and without any justice. He wanted to share his story in the hope that it would stop other workers falling into the trap that they did.

MOM is still investigating Selvan’s case. He may be eligible to continue working in Singapore.

Update: since this story was published, in response to HOME’s referral, MOM recognised that elements of human trafficking were present in Kalai’s case. MOM stated that Kalai would not be treated as an offender and would be allowed to work in Singapore again. Kalai has now left Singapore.

The names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the victims. To donate to HOME, visit www.home.org.sg.