S'pore 'ensures welfare of foreign workers'

They are included in unions and laws protect basic rights; they also benefit from tripartite efforts like Migrant Workers' Centre

Singapore looks out for the welfare of foreigners in its midst, through laws that protect their basic rights and by including them in unions, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

For instance, the Employment Act protects basic rights for all workers, including foreign workers, said Mr Lim, at the first International Forum on Tripartism. The Employment of Foreign Manpower Act is further tailored to their specific needs.

They also benefit from tripartite efforts such as the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC), a worker advocacy group, added labour chief Chan Chun Sing at the same forum. The ministers were responding to questions posed by delegates from countries that frequently send workers to Singapore.

"Our commitment of how we treat our workers, whether local or foreign, is that we will not do unto others what we do not expect others to do unto us," said Mr Chan, NTUC secretary-general and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

"We treat all our workers fairly... because if we want an enterprise to succeed, then everyone at that enterprise must behave as if they are one big family."

Over 30 countries including India, Indonesia, and the Philippines were represented at the event by government officials, union leaders and employers.

It was organised by the Manpower Ministry, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation to showcase their model of three-way partnership, and to learn from the best practices and tripartite models of other countries.

Mr Lim said that besides legislation, employers are also encouraged to upgrade the skills of their foreign workers through the two-tiered levy system, which charges employers less if they employ higher-skilled workers.

Noting that unions here are for all nationalities with foreigners making up around 15 per cent of members, he said: "My commitment to you is that... we will continue to reach out to them in an inclusive way."

Mr Chan said some more progressive companies pay union dues for their foreign workers to join unions.

On the Migrant Workers' Centre, which was started in 2009 and describes itself on its website as a non-government organisation, he said: "It's a tripartite effort."

"(The) Government provides funding support, employers provide funding support, the unions provide manpower and some funding support, so we all chip in together."

International delegates at the conference at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability agreed it was in their interests for foreigners to be in unions here.

"It can reduce discrimination," said Sri Lankan Sunanda Kariyapperuma, the Additional Commissioner General of Labour.

Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn said migrant workers in Cambodia can even become union leaders. This is uncommon in Singapore.

"It's good if more migrants can join unions in Singapore," he said. "More Cambodians are moving to Singapore to work, and this can improve their working conditions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore 'ensures welfare of foreign workers''. Print Edition | Subscribe