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Pre-emptive measures needed to safeguard worker welfare

Given the ineffectiveness of present methods, it is clear that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) should take more pre-emptive measures to guarantee the welfare of migrant labourers (MOM: Early reporting of errant employers sees better outcomes; Aug 26).

It is desirable and necessary to maintain official channels of contact to weed out cases of non-compliance with the labour laws, as it is not always possible for migrant workers to report their employers.

The natural first step is to increase inspections of worksites and dormitories. Living quarters and catering arrangements need to be examined in greater depth. Stringent regulations are meaningless if they are not backed by close enforcement.

During their visits, MOM inspectors should also take the opportunity to conduct private dialogues with a random sample of workers, thereby facilitating direct reporting.

Local employment agencies should be legally required to educate their clients as well as provide written information on how to go about contacting the MOM should the need arise.

Furthermore, severe penalties should be imposed on errant firms to reflect the severity of the offence and to act as a deterrent to other firms.

We may even consider requiring employers to furnish a banker's guarantee for every foreign worker employed, to be forfeited if poor working conditions are discovered, or utilised to pay interim advance of unpaid salary, if needed. Having additional cost attached to enlisting migrant labour would perhaps drive home the value that these individuals bring to the industry, and incentivise firms to carefully consider their hiring practices.

There are more than 300,000 foreign workers engaged in Singapore's construction sector and contributing to the local economy. It is high time their voices are heard and accorded due weight.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Pre-emptive measures needed to safeguard worker welfare'. Subscribe