Low wages a factor in injuries, deaths at work

Construction workers building a scaffold against the backdrop of the Central Business District.
Construction workers building a scaffold against the backdrop of the Central Business District.PHOTO: ST FILE

Manpower correspondent Toh Yong Chuan's commentary ("When non-slip shoes may have prevented workers' deaths"; last Thursday) was noteworthy for mentioning two factors in the deaths of workers on the job.

First, the deaths occurred disproportionately among (low-wage) foreign workers, and, second, a correlation exists between low wages and injury/death rates.

Mr Toh cited a view that employers may see low-wage employees as less valuable and easily replaceable, because of their low wages.

This may be true, but low salaries also affect the decisions and actions of the workers in ways that make accidents and injuries more likely.

Work-permit holders often pay extremely high recruitment fees, placing them in debt to banks, moneylenders, friends and relatives for more than a year.

The chance to work overtime at 1 ½ times or double the regular hourly rate is highly desirable, as it allows the worker to reduce his debt more quickly.

This also benefits the employer because he is able to employ fewer workers, thereby reducing the cost of additional levies, insurance, housing and maintenance.

The injured men who seek Transient Workers Count Too's assistance for their injury compensation claims often tell of working 15 hours a day, with almost no days off, far in excess of the legal limit of 72 hours of overtime per week.

A man with a basic salary of $400 a month, for example, could earn more than $1,000 a month by working such long hours.

Concentration, judgment and health are seriously affected when one has insufficient rest, and when one fears salary deductions for taking a day off for minor ailments or injuries.

Higher salaries and reduced placement fees will help to alleviate injuries and death at the workplace, as well as ease the desperation of workers to work excessive or long hours in inherently dangerous positions.

Debbie Fordyce (Ms)

Member, Executive Committee

Transient Workers Count Too

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Low wages a factor in injuries, deaths at work'. Print Edition | Subscribe