Tributes to the Migrant Workers in Singapore
‘Migrant workers living in dorms thrilled to return to Little India for first time in 1½ years’, reported in The Straits Times dated 16 September 2021. This is a pilot program by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for 500 migrant workers who are staying in the dormitory to return to Little India for personal breaks outside the dormitory compound, except working at sites, since Covid19 started. It has been such a joyous occasion for them and the merchants in Little India area.
Migrant workers who are holding work permits under construction, marine, and process sectors have tallied as 304,200^ count as of Jun 2021. This accounts for 8% of Singapore's total workforce. They usually fill the lower-skilled or unpopular positions, such as jobs at construction sites, landscaping works, technicians, estate/town council cleaning jobs, etc. Similar to developed nations, Singapore has seen an increased dependence on migrant workers while Singapore Government working to see how unpopular jobs can be automated.
Construction companies and marine companies have been facing labour crunch due to borders’ restrictions. Workers from the Non-Traditional Source (NTS) countries have not been able to enter into or return to Singapore since 2020. Many projects have been delayed, including HDB’s Built to Order (BTO) projects. Some construction companies or contractors are experiencing escalating salary costs due to the shortage of supply, while workers are poached from other employers in order to complete the projects on hand. This has become an ailing trend in the severely shorthanded sectors. MOM is in collaboration with Singapore Construction Association Limited (SCAL) to provide job-matching assistance to match construction workers with potential companies and embarking on pilot programs to bring the migrant workers into Singapore again.
As early as 2013 there were a handful of religious organisations that organise annual appreciation lunches and dinners to thank the migrant workers for their contribution towards Singapore’s development. Some called it Banquet of Honour#. They organised the events over a few days by country source (India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia etc) with banquet setting, volunteers serving food to each table seated by the migrant workers, including domestic helpers. During the events, the organisers provided entertainment in the native language of the respective countries and lucky draws. Many who attended enjoyed themselves and some attended similar events in the subsequent years. Such organisations showed their appreciation for the contributions made by the migrant workers.
The following are some of my pleasant personal experiences with the migrant workers, which I would also wish to pay my tributes to them. Most of these personal incidents shared occurred prior to covid19.
a) Employment loyalty
Being an HR practitioner, I observe that migrant workers are seen to display more loyalty towards their employers than the Singapore citizens/PR workforce.
Mr. M. received a huge amount of money in his Singapore salary account. He was very concerned and sought help. I advised him to file a police report and notify the bank. He took the advice. His account was frozen and had no money, yet he stood firm to integrity. The money was returned to the bank in full while he became the spokesman in the organisation for his fellow countrymen.
c) Good working relationship fostered
Mr. T. has been working in Singapore for many years. He had an arranged marriage in his home country. He invited his superiors and colleagues to his wedding. One of his long-standing superiors flew to the country to attend Mr. T.’s wedding, at personal expense. The relationship fostered between the manager and Mr. T. is impressive.
d) Loving husband and doting father
Mr. J. resigned from his job as Site Supervisor as his wife became mentally unsound, caused by the separation from her husband and her anxieties to want to have children. She had been barren for many years. He returned to his home country to take care of his wife. The wife then recovered, conceived naturally and, gave birth to a set of triplets. When his home situation stabilised and the triplets grew into toddlers, he returned to Singapore to work in the same role. He was always grinning from ear to ear when he shared the updates of his beloved children.
e) Upgrading of self
I was recruiting suitable candidates in a niched construction-engineering industry. I posted the position in popular job portals and the number of migrant workers who applied for it was more than the locals (1 applicant only). A few of the applicants had returned to their home countries and applied for the position from where they were. Though their skills and experience matched the requirement they understood that they could not be considered for the position as they could not return to Singapore due to borders’ control.
I shortlisted a candidate who has worked as a technician in this niched trade for many years. On his own accord, he took up technical courses with a local institution and had attained the certificates, at his own expense. With his upgraded qualifications, he was considered for the position and I could propose a suitable work pass strategy for him.
f) Stood up for justice
I have one unforgettable personal encounter. I usually go to Little India almost every weekend for personal visits. On one particular weekend, I was waiting at an open car park off Dickson Road. The car park was busy as there was an evening crowd for shopping and dinner in Little India. After waiting for a while, a car park space which was distinctly mine became available. While I was getting ready to move into the lot, another driver hijacked it. I was upset and confronted the driver. While the driver remained silent, an exchange took place between one of the passengers and me. She was thoroughly unreasonable. She ignored my request to move their vehicle out and walked off with her group. I was left dumbfounded.
Reluctantly, I returned to the car and waited for the next available space. There was a lot from a distance which was vacant and it was not supposed to be mine. A group of migrant workers stood near to the vacant lot and witnessed the bullying episode. While a truck driver was moving into the lot which he had been waiting for, one worker from the group spoke to him and the latter gave it to me willingly. I was very touched by their standing up for me and I expressed my appreciation to them.
In closing, while it is needful for MOM to restrict the number of migrant workers to stay within the dormitory’s compound to curb the spread of the Covid19 virus, these workers also deserve a breather to visit their favourite places to maintain their mental wellness. Together with many others who agree that migrant workers are important to Singapore’s economic development, I look forward to the time when the borders’ restrictions are lifted and more migrant workers can enter Singapore again. Places such as Little India will be bustling and visitors are moving freely again!
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