Helping foreign workers adapt

Guidebooks and helplines are good tools for helping foreign workers adapt to a new life in Singapore.

But they are not enough.

Some may need a stronger helping hand when handling more complex situations, such as salary issues or workplace injury compensation claims.

A new, day-long Settling-In Programme could be a good starting point. To be conducted in the workers' native languages, it aims to inform them of their employment rights, Singapore's laws and its social norms, among other matters.

To be rolled out in stages from the second half of next year, it will also allow first-time workers here to clarify their doubts directly with trainers, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say on Sunday, when announcing the programme.

About 2,000 foreign construction workers are expected to attend the programme each month, with employers paying the course fees. It will be progressively extended to workers in other sectors.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) welcomed the programme, saying that knowing their rights will help workers recognise if they are being exploited and give them greater confidence in making a report sooner rather than later.

But there needs to be safeguards to ensure the programme does not create additional burden for migrant workers, such as if errant bosses pass on the costs to their employees. NGOs like Transient Workers Count Too, which meets about 1,000 new workers a year, hope they can participate in the course as well, such as by giving talks.

HealthServe, which helps migrant workers with medical issues, said accidents and salary disputes may be the last thing on workers' minds when they arrive, so there could be refresher courses for them to know what to do in an emergency.

A similar programme for foreign maids in 2012 devoted much of the course to safety, after eight died in four months that year after falling from high-rise buildings while working.

Five years have passed. The latest move for foreign workers is perhaps overdue.

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'Helping foreign workers adapt'. Print Edition | Subscribe