5,000 foreign workers to serve as volunteer ambassadors for migrant welfare group by 2020

Construction worker Govindasami Venkatesan and safety coordinator H.A. Saeed Abdul Hai Hauladar. Mr Govindasami and 19 other volunteers were awarded for their work in reaching out to their peers to help address issues like salary disputes.
Construction worker Govindasami Venkatesan and safety coordinator H.A. Saeed Abdul Hai Hauladar. Mr Govindasami and 19 other volunteers were awarded for their work in reaching out to their peers to help address issues like salary disputes.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - In August, construction worker Govindasami Venkatesan, 25, found out that his dormitory roommate's employer owed him $9,800 - or three months' salary, including overtime.

The roommate, whom he knew as Kumar, was the sole breadwinner in his family and was worried about how he was going to take care of his parents in Tamil Nadu, in India, without the money.

"But he was afraid to go to the authorities because he feared that he could get repatriated," said Mr Govindasami, who is also from Tamil Nadu and has been working in Singapore for five years.

But, with three years of experience as a volunteer ambassador with migrant worker welfare group, Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC), under his belt, Mr Govindasami assured Kumar that would not be the case. He referred thecase to MWC, and the company paid the full amount to Kumar last month.

On Sunday (Dec 3), Minister of State for Manpower, Sam Tan, handed out awards to Mr Govindasami and 19 other volunteers for their work in reaching out to their peers to help address issues like salary disputes or unpaid medical claims.

They are among 1,500 ambassadors who are now part of a volunteer scheme that was set up by the MWC in 2013. The ambassadors help bring to the attention of the MWC problems their peers may be facing.

The MWC - which is backed by the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress and employers - hopes to raise this number to 5,000 by 2020, its chairman Yeo Guat Kwang has announced.

At the appreciation dinner for 1,000 workers on Sunday, held to mark International Migrants' Day on Dec 18, Mr Yeo said that such a network of ambassadors can help the MWC "run an extra mile to reach out to foreign workers to make them feel assured that they can get help, and put down their psychological barriers (about going to the authorities)".

There are now more than 700,000 non-domestic foreign workers here.

On top of pairing mentors with newly arrived workers to help them with the integration process, the volunteer network also helps to disseminate information to workers. It also provides on-the-ground updates and feedback on unfair employment practices and potential incidents so MWC can intervene earlier before problems escalate.

Mr Tan, who was guest-of-honour at the dinner, disclosed that the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management had assisted more than 300 foreign workers since its launch in April. The alliance was set up to provide advice and conduct mandatory and voluntary mediation for employment disputes.

The MWC said that it also aims to extend a programme that trains workers in basic employment laws and protection for migrant workers to all its ambassadors in the near future. There are now about 100 ambassadors who have completed the programme.

In October, MWC also began running campaigns to spread the SGSecure message in a series of roadshows at various dormitories and recreational centres.

So far, more than 18,000 workers have been engaged in efforts to teach them to "run, hide, tell" in the event of a terrorist attack, and to stay vigilant in situations that can threaten their safety and well-being while working in Singapore.

On Sunday, a one-minute jingle, which can be shared on social media, was launched to help workers remember the key messages of the SGSecure campaign.

Separately, non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) also treated 250 migrant workers - namely male workers facing work injury and salary problems, and members of their affiliate Indonesian and Filipino domestic worker groups - to lunch and a movie screening of Thor: Ragnarok at independent cinema The Projector on Sunday.

TWC2 aims to raise a sum of $60,000 through this annual International Migrants Day celebration by selling movie tickets to donors, some of whom sponsored tickets for the migrant workers.