SINGAPORE - 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 goes towards meals or ex gratia payments for workers who cannot fully recover their salary claims, for instance.
So far this year, the organisation 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 on Sunday (Dec 16) that the higher numbers are because the centre started handling cases referred by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) since August last year. TADM conducts mediation for salary-related claims.
“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 added that there are no signs of an overall increase in the number of disputes involving foreign workers in Singapore.
Workers should seek help early if disputes arise, added Mr Yeo. But many worry 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.
There are times when workers' companies are already in financial difficulty by the time they come forward, so they are unable to recoup the money they are 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.
MWC arranged housing for the workers and paid out $30,000 in ex gratia assistance 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 MWC's work, as it has been increasing the number of foreign worker ambassadors who help with outreach at dormitories and at events.
The number has grown to 3,000, up from 1,200 last year. The aim is to have 5,000 ambassadors by 2020, he said.
One of these is general construction worker Robiul Hoq, 30, who has been living in Singapore for seven years.
Earlier this year, he advised a friend to contact 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 an 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 MWC),” said Mr Robiul, who is from Bangladesh.
Another volunteer, Mr Veluchamy Muniapparaj, 33, said he wants to use his free time meaningfully and give back to society after benefiting from working here. The Indian national is an operations executive at a dormitory in Kaki Bukit.
In March this year, he referred an Indian chef from an eatery near his dorm to the MWC, as the chef was owed about $20,000, or four months of salary, but was afraid to confront his boss, who kept promising to pay him “next month”.
The staff coached the man in how to raise the case to the Manpower Ministry, and he recouped his salary within a month.
“He came to find me and we went to check his bank account together. He was so happy when he saw the money that his tears came out,” said Mr Muniapparaj.
Sunday's sports carnival was organised by 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.
Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How was the guest of honour at the event. Mr Heng is deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, which runs the MWC together with the Singapore National Employers Federation.