Migrant workers falling through the cracks in laws
SMU survey indicates concerns plaguing foreign workers, though researchers acknowledge 'skewed convenience sampling'
In Singapore, three pieces of legislation protect migrant workers - the Employment Act, the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and the Work Injury Compensation Act.
Yet, migrant workers continue to fall through the cracks when it comes to their salary or work injury claims, a study by Singapore Management University (SMU) researchers found.
Through interviews with 157 migrant workers - all of whom had made claims with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) - SMU's Dr Nicholas Harrigan and Ms Tamera Fillinger found three recurring problems faced by the workers: under-reporting of injuries by their employers, lack of access to evidence needed to support a claim and enforcing successful judgments when their employers don't pay.
These findings are part of a report published by migrant worker group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).
Ms Fillinger, an adjunct faculty member of SMU's law school, said yesterday: "The legislation is pretty comprehensive... So why then are non-profit organisations continuing to report workers experiencing egregious treatment?"
Part of the problem is that you need to provide evidence, said Dr Harrigan from the School of Social Sciences.
"But this simple requirement of the legal system actually presents huge problems for migrant workers... Because they often lack evidence to support their claims," he said.
The researchers found that workers often reported having no contracts or were not given a copy. They were also not provided timely and properly itemised pay slips.
TWC2's findings, while sobering, are not surprising, said Dr Stephanie Chok, one of the panellists at the event organised by TWC2 yesterday.
Dr Chok, a researcher on labour migration and inequality, has volunteered and worked with local migrant worker groups for many years.
MOM said the interviewees in SMU's study were selected through "skewed convenience sampling" - a limitation the researchers acknowledged.
The ministry said a 2014 survey jointly done by the Migrant Workers' Centre and MOM was more representative as it involved more than 4,000 work permit holders. This survey found that about nine in 10 foreign workers are satisfied with working in Singapore.
Its spokesman said: "MOM remains concerned on the issues faced by this small group of foreign work permit holders.
"Therefore, MOM has strengthened safeguards to enhance the well-being of our foreign work permit holders over the years. These include regular reviews to ensure that our legislation continues to remain relevant and adequate.
"Beyond legislation, we also regularly reach out to these workers to inform them of their rights. These efforts are complemented with a tough enforcement stance against errant employers."