More distressed foreign workers helped

A 3km mass run and futsal were some of the activities organised for workers at the Migrant Workers' Centre's International Migrants Day celebrations, at the Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong yesterday.
A 3km mass run and futsal were some of the activities organised for workers at the Migrant Workers' Centre's International Migrants Day celebrations, at the Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong yesterday.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
A 3km mass run and futsal were some of the activities organised for workers at the Migrant Workers' Centre's International Migrants Day celebrations, at the Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong yesterday.
A 3km mass run and futsal were some of the activities organised for workers at the Migrant Workers' Centre's International Migrants Day celebrations, at the Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong yesterday.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

Migrant Workers' Centre gave over $500,000 in aid and housed more than 530 this year

More foreign workers received help this year from the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC), with more than $500,000 in financial assistance given out.

This is more than double the figure given out from the Migrant Workers' Assistance Fund last year, and went towards meals or ex gratiapayments for workers who could not fully recover their salary claims, for instance.

So far this year, the centre has housed more than 530 workers - also double last year's number - and provided more than 87,000 meals.

MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said yesterday that the higher numbers are because the centre has been handling cases referred by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management since August last year.

"We expect these numbers to be the norm going forward," he told reporters at a sports carnival for workers at Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong. But he said there are no signs of an overall increase in disputes involving foreign workers here.

Workers should seek help early if disputes arise, added Mr Yeo. But many worry that they will be repatriated or lose their jobs and are hesitant to come forward.

"We are trying to work more closely with (the Ministry of Manpower) and employers to extend better employment assistance and have a more structured employment assistance programme to assure them that they can go on to a new job in Singapore," he said.

  • OUTREACH IMPROVING

  • 3,000

    Number of foreign-worker ambassadors who help with outreach at dormitories and at events now.

    1,200

    Number of ambassadors last year.

There are times when employers are already in financial difficulties by the time workers come forward, so workers are unable to recoup their wages owed, he said.

For example, a group of 27 workers who were owed eight to 12 months of salary were unable to fully recover their salary claims as the company director had filed for bankruptcy. The workers were evicted from their accommodation due to unpaid dormitory bills.

The MWC arranged housing for them and paid out $30,000 to help them meet urgent financial needs such as family living expenses.

Mr Yeo also attributed the greater assistance given out this year to more workers knowing about the MWC's work, as it has been increasing the number of foreign-worker ambassadors who help with outreach at dormitories and at events. There are now 3,000 ambassadors, up from 1,200 last year. The aim is to have 5,000 by 2020, he said.

One of these volunteers is general construction worker Robiul Hoq, 30, who has lived in Singapore for seven years.

Earlier this year, he advised a friend to contact the MWC after the worker injured his finger.

"His company did not take care of him and he had to look for other housing, so I gave him the MWC number," he said.

The man was relieved after MWC staff told him his rights, such as his employer not being allowed to repatriate him before the injury claim was complete.

"Some friends who are new to Singapore may not know where to get help. If they have problems, I can tell them (about the MWC)," said Mr Robiul, who is from Bangladesh.

Yesterday's sports carnival was organised by the MWC to celebrate International Migrants Day, which falls on Dec 18. It focused on health and safety, with activities including a mass run, cricket competition and Zumba workout.

Mr Yeo said the MWC will work closely with the Health Promotion Board next year to go to dormitories and workplaces to promote the message of healthy living and eating.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2018, with the headline 'More distressed foreign workers helped'. Print Edition | Subscribe