Reaching out to fellow workers

Construction worker Govindasami Venkatesan (far left), from India, and safety coordinator H.A. Saeed Abdul Hai Hauladar, 44, from Bangladesh, were among the 20 volunteers who received awards last night for their work in reaching out to their peers to
Construction worker Govindasami Venkatesan (left), from India, and safety coordinator H.A. Saeed Abdul Hai Hauladar, 44, from Bangladesh, were among the 20 volunteers who received awards last night for their work in reaching out to their peers to help address issues like salary disputes and unpaid medical claims.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Volunteers with Migrant Workers' Centre help peers address problems they face

In August, construction worker Govindasami Venkatesan found out that his dormitory roommate's employer owed him $9,800, or three months' salary, including overtime.

The roommate, whom he knew as Kumar, was the sole breadwinner of his family and was worried about how he was going to take care of his parents in Tamil Nadu, in India, without the money.

"But he was afraid to go to the authorities because he feared that he could get repatriated," said Mr Govindasami, 25, who is also from Tamil Nadu and has been working in Singapore for five years.

But, with three years of experience as a volunteer ambassador with migrant worker welfare group Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) under his belt, Mr Govindasami assured his roommate that would not be the case. He referred the case to MWC, and the company paid the full amount to his roommate last month.

Last night, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan handed out awards to Mr Govindasami and 19 other volunteers for their work in reaching out to their peers to help address issues like salary disputes and unpaid medical claims.

They are among 1,500 ambassadors who are now part of a volunteer scheme that was set up by the MWC in 2013, where they help bring problems their peers may be facing to the attention of the MWC.

The MWC - which is backed by the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and employers - hopes to raise this number to 5,000 by 2020, its chairman, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, has announced.

At the appreciation dinner for 1,000 workers last night, held to mark International Migrants' Day on Dec 18, Mr Yeo said that such a network of ambassadors can help the MWC go the "extra mile to reach out to foreign workers to make them feel assured that they can get help, and put down their psychological barriers (about going to the authorities)". There are now more than 700,000 non-domestic foreign workers here.

On top of pairing mentors with newly arrived workers to help them with the integration process, the volunteer network helps to disseminate information to workers. It also provides on-the-ground updates and feedback on unfair employment practices and potential incidents, so that MWC can intervene before problems escalate.

In October, MWC also began campaigns to spread the SGSecure message in a series of roadshows at dormitories and recreational centres.

So far, more than 18,000 workers have been engaged in efforts to teach them to "run, hide, tell" in the event of a terrorist attack.

Last night, a one-minute jingle, which can be shared on social media, was launched to help workers remember the key messages of the SGSecure campaign.

Separately, non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too treated 250 migrant workers to lunch and a movie screening of Thor: Ragnarok at independent cinema The Projector yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2017, with the headline 'Reaching out to fellow workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe