More help and treats for foreign workers

Ms Dominica Filtri Masniari (facing camera), a finance and audit manager with the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, chatting with a migrant worker at its new centre at Grandlink Square in Guillemard Road. The other new centre is at P
Ms Dominica Filtri Masniari (facing camera), a finance and audit manager with the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, chatting with a migrant worker at its new centre at Grandlink Square in Guillemard Road. The other new centre is at Peninsula Plaza.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Ahead of International Migrants Day, which falls on Friday, foreign worker advocacy groups are holding activities to celebrate the contributions of migrants.

The more than 1.3 million migrants make up one-third of the Singapore workforce today.

While many say they are satisfied with the living and working conditions here, a small minority continue to face challenges, ranging from employers to injuries.

To better cater to their needs, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) is doubling the number of its help centres. It is opening two new centres today. The one at Peninsula Plaza will cater to Myanmar nationals, and another at Grandlink Square in Guillemard Road will reach out to Indonesians.

These centres, which provide services like counselling, have been set up at locations where workers from these countries often gather.

YEAR-ROUND CONCERN IDEAL

We have taken care not to overemphasise International Migrants Day as a one-off annual occurrence. Empathy and concern for migrant workers... should come to us naturally, and not only in conjunction with the pomp and celebration of the day.

MIGRANT WORKERS' CENTRE CHAIRMAN YEO GUAT KWANG

"There is a growing number of Myanmar workers seeking help from Home, including construction and service sector workers," said its executive director, Mr Jolovan Wham.

"We also want to reach out more to Indonesians, who form one of the largest groups of domestic workers in Singapore, and the often- forgotten fishermen and seafarers," he added.

These two centres, each about the size of a three-room Housing Board flat, will be open daily.

They are funded by local law firm Hoh Law Corporation and charity Chen Su Lan Trust Fund, and add to the two help centres that Home currently operates at Lucky Plaza and Lorong 17 Geylang, for domestic helpers and other migrant workers respectively.

Meanwhile, the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) is holding a mass picnic for 5,000 foreign workers at Little India.

The programme includes handing out cards, screening a video thanking foreign workers and a photo exhibition on their contributions. The photo exhibition will make its way to dormitories and foreign workers' recreation centres, targeting another 5,000 workers, said the MWC.

"We have taken care not to overemphasise International Migrants Day as a one-off annual occurrence," said MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang. "Empathy and concern for migrant workers... should come to us naturally, and not only in conjunction with the pomp and celebration of the day."

Also holding an event at Little India today is Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). It is treating some 150 foreign workers to a buffet lunch at the rooftop restaurant at Mustafa Centre. TWC2 president Noorashikin Abdul Rahman said it will raise funds for TWC2 and show appreciation to foreign workers.

A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesman said of these initiatives: "We are heartened by various efforts from the different groups showing their appreciation towards these workers."

He added that MOM staff will be at the MWC activities to educate foreign workers on working in Singapore, employment laws and workplace safety.

While the activities planned are largely celebratory, Home's Mr Wham urged the Government to use the occasion to sign the United Nations' International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The treaty, introduced in 1990, came into force in 2003 and spells out protections for migrant workers and their families.

Responding, MOM said the rights and well-being of foreign workers are protected under Singapore's labour laws, and ratifying the Convention means giving migrants and their families the "same access to social security, equal employment rights in terms of remuneration and conditions of work".

"Given Singapore's constraints, we do not think that we can accede to such stipulations," said MOM.

"Thus far, 145 of the 193 UN member states have not ratified the Convention," it added.

LIFE AFTER SINGAPORE INSIGHT

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'More help and treats for foreign workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe