The rising incidence of employers not insuring the foreign workers they employ, refusing to compensate them for injuries or owing salaries is disconcerting ("Injured Bangladeshi worker unable to recover $9k from boss"; Jan 23).
These workers are a vulnerable and helpless lot as they lack the recourse to complain and seek justice, lest they lose their jobs or get their work permits terminated.
The Labour Court, run by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), is only able to issue orders to errant employers to honour their obligations, but has no enforcement power. Unscrupulous employers know this and brazenly ignore these orders.
If we think that foreign workers are necessary in plugging the labour shortage in sectors which Singaporeans shun, and I think they are, the MOM must do a lot more to protect these workers from blatant exploitation. We owe this to them.
Perhaps we can consider the following measures:
- The Labour Court be given the mandate to prosecute errant employers. Failing this, affected workers should be accorded free legal access to the State Courts.
- The MOM has to ensure that employers have insurance coverage for foreign workers before they begin work.
- Protect and safeguard the jobs of foreign workers who have bona fide complaints against their employers.
- Workers with false claims or complaints are to have their work permits terminated.
- Employers have to submit monthly statements to the MOM as proof of salary payments.
Being a First World country, Singapore can ill-afford to have its image tarnished by unfair and ill-treatment of foreign workers. At the very least, they must be treated as human beings and with dignity.
Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan