Free aid for migrant workers at new legal clinic at mosque in Little India

(From left) Mr Muhammad Ismail Noordin, Mr Melvin Loh, Mr Adnaan Noor, Mr Nahin Mustafiz and Mr Sayeed Ul Mursalin. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Migrant workers facing salary disputes, work injury woes and legal issues will be able to get free consultations in the first legal clinic to open in a mosque here by the Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS) group.

The clinic at Angullia Mosque in Little India is LSPBS' first onsite legal clinic since the pandemic. It is held on alternate Sundays and is open to foreign workers of all religions, with interpretation services for languages such as Hindi, Bengali and Tamil.

LSPBS chairman Gregory Vijayendran said it decided to open the clinic at the mosque because of the large migrant worker demographic who feel safe in a place of worship.

He was speaking at the clinic's official launch on Sunday (May 8). The event was attended by the clinic's partners, who will help to provide translation for workers, handle cases and other matters.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, the guest of honour, said officers from the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) Assurance, Care and Engagement Group will be stationed at the clinic.

The officers will deal with serious cases - including non-legal matters - and provide assurance to workers that their issues are heard, he added.

The clinic is a step forward in supporting at-risk workers, following the establishment last year of the Migrant Workers' Group, which piloted virtual legal clinics for migrant workers amid Covid-19 restrictions, said Mr Zaqy.

Clinics run by the LSPBS have assisted more than 260 workers, he added, citing an example of a site supervisor who was denied overtime pay. With the help of pro bono lawyers, the case was eventually ruled in favour of the worker, with his employer ordered to pay him the owed salary.

Said Mr Zaqy: "This landmark case helped deter errant employers from promoting their workers in name to avoid paying overtime entitlements.

"MOM takes a firm stance on errant employers. We will not hesitate to take them to task, and workers who require assistance will not be turned down."

Mr Muhammed Ismail Noordin, senior associate at law firm WongPartnership, pitched the idea to open a legal clinic for migrant workers after a worker facing a salary dispute asked him for help at the mosque last year.

Mr Ismail, 31, who is a board member of Angullia Mosque, said: "As I listened to him, I realised there are so many problems in the migrant worker community and thought of how we can help this vulnerable group."

Since the clinic's soft launch in March, more than 40 migrant workers have registered for the clinic, said the LSPBS in a statement.

The clinic adds to the organisation's list of legal representation options for the needy, including the Ad Hoc Pro Bono Scheme and Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.

The cases are often related to salary disputes and work injuries, Mr Ismail said, adding that the team has also handled criminal matters, including a worker who was accused of a crime but did not understand the charges he was facing.

Since the clinic's soft launch in March, more than 40 migrant workers have registered for the clinic, said the LSPBS. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Mr Vijayendran said the mosque offers a safe space for migrant workers who form the bulk of the congregation every Sunday, making it a more conducive place to speak compared with clinics in dormitories or online.

He added: "The workers are often very shy, and I have noticed you have to probe them for some time before the full story comes out. And you need trust to do so.

"There are all these fears to grapple with, so the mosque becomes a natural place for us to be close to the community here."

Ms Smitha Menon, another lawyer with WongPartnership, said the clinic's location will go a long way to making legal aid more accessible to workers.

The volunteer lawyer with the LSPBS added: "If we go to the dorms, it might not be as effective because the workers are concerned about raising these issues in their employers' premises. This location gives them dignity... It balances the playing field."

The clinics will be held on the second and fourth Sunday every month from 10am to 12.30pm. Migrant workers may walk in to the clinic to apply for a consultation, or do so online.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.