Ways to help foreign workers

The commentary on July 23 ("Help foreign workers eat right") and the letter from the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics ("Time to clean up cleaners' housing woes"; July 22) highlighted how some foreign construction workers and cleaners have been exploited.

For the cleaners, the so-called day off on the first Sunday of each month is not actually a full day off, as they must still work in the morning before they leave in the afternoon.

This is happening in Tampines. When residents litter in the afternoon and the cleaners are away, the poor workers end up working doubly hard the next day. The cleaners also have to dispose bulky items discarded near the common rubbish chutes, often making a few trips to do so.

If residents spare a thought for these cleaners who toil under the blazing sun to keep our estates clean, they can make their work less strenuous and stressful.

For construction workers, instead of using a middleman to arrange for their lunch, employers should negotiate with the economy rice stall at a nearby coffee shop to provide a decent meal.

I have seen how a construction company assigned two workers to collect the meals at 11am in a lorry and return to the site office 15 minutes before lunchtime.

The food stall prepares the meals just in time for the workers to pick them up. The construction foreman then collects the money from the workers and pays the stall owner.

Poor meals not only affect the health of workers but also tarnish Singapore's international human rights standing.

Factoring in the cost of meals in contract tender prices will not work because contractors will still bid low to secure jobs and end up cutting corners.

It is also difficult to quantify the cost of meals when tendering because workers are transient and headcounts are hard to predict.

The authorities should look into ways, including introducing laws, to protect these workers.

Francis Cheng