Mandatory settling-in programme for foreign workers to start in second half of 2018

Foreign workers taking photos at a photo booth at a Manpower Ministry appreciation dinner on Nov 26, 2017. ST PHOTO: SEOW BEI YI

SINGAPORE - From the second half of next year, new foreign workers will attend a mandatory Settling-in Programme (SIP), similar to that for first-time domestic workers.

This is to help them learn about Singapore's social norms, laws, as well as their employment rights and obligations, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said on Sunday (Nov 26). It will also inform them how and where they can seek help.

The move was welcomed by non-governmental organisations that help foreign workers, saying that employers not paying their employees their salaries or compensating them for work injuries continue to be an issue here and that the new programme will help newcomers know what they are entitled to and where to turn to for assistance.

The programme, to be rolled out in phases, will start with first-time foreign workers in the construction sector, Mr Lim said. Malaysians will be excluded.

He was speaking at a Manpower Ministry (MOM) appreciation dinner for more than 300 partners, including employers, dormitory operators and non-government organisations.

The SIP will be extended progressively to other sectors such as marine, process, as well as manufacturing and services.

About 2,000 foreign workers in the construction sector are expected to attend the SIP each month, according to MOM. Employers will be responsible for registration and course fees.

The ministry conducted a pilot from June to October last year, which involved close to 1,900 workers.

Besides feedback that the course was useful and helped workers understand how MOM can help when they have employment issues, a post-course evaluation found that the workers showed a more positive work attitude after the course.

Of Singapore's one million or so work permit holders, about 700,000 are non-domestic foreign workers, Mr Lim said at Sunday's event.

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He stressed the need to take strong action against irresponsible employers and employment agencies, adding that Singapore has strengthened its laws and policies in this area over the years.

In 2011, under the Employment Agencies Act, the fine for those operating without a valid licence was raised from a maximum of $5,000 to $80,000 for first-time offenders.

Last year, itemised pay slips and key employment terms in writing also became compulsary, he said.

In April this year, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) was set up to strengthen dispute resolution mechanisms here.

"In the first six months of operations, we received 2,500 salary claims from foreign workers. Of the claims that have concluded mediation, about 90 per cent recovered their unpaid salaries in full," said Mr Lim.

"All foreign workers with valid salary claims are also allowed to change employers. In the first six months of 2017, about 600 of such foreign workers indicated that they wished to change employers and of these, about half found new jobs in Singapore," he added.

In the first nine months of this year, over 99.9 per cent of the 11,500 injured workers had their cases successfully resolved, he said.

The remaining cases were not resolved because the employers had failed to buy work injury compensation insurance and were facing financial difficulties, he added.

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