Here's an article dated 7th Feb 2012. What are your thoughts?
Migrant Worker Sit-In Makes Waves in Singapore
(source: http://blogs.wsj.com/searealtime/2012/0 ... singapore/)
Strikes and sit-ins are almost unheard-of in Singapore. So it’s no wonder a sit-in involving foreign construction workers Monday morning is making headlines.
The low-wage migrant workers, who, like the much of the city-state’s construction force are from Bangladesh, gathered in a vacant field near their dormitories Monday in Tampines, a part of east Singapore. They were protesting against their employers, Singapore-based Sunway Concrete Products Pte. Ltd and Techcom Construction & Trading Pte. Ltd. Both companies are contracted by the government Housing Development Board to build homes across the island.
The workers said their employers had not paid their salaries for four months, since November last year, despite repeated requests for payment. Initial investigations carried out by officials from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower confirmed that they had not been paid.
The workers also took issue with the food they were being served, which they said was inedible though paid from their own salaries, which are between S$2 – 2.50 (US$1.60 – $2) an hour, according to the workers. Neither company returned calls seeking comment.
Online news website The Online Citizen, which frequently publishes dissenting views to Singapore’s mainstream media, was the first to break news of the strike Monday afternoon. Print media like the Straits Times followed the morning after, focusing on how the strike ended peacefully later in the day, with the headline: “Wage dispute resolved after 200 workers stage protest in Tampines.”
The strike, though small, is the latest blip in Singapore’s usually orderly and well-functioning daily routine, which has seen severe subway breakdowns, top officials charged for corruption and flooding in the main shopping district in the past few months.
Industrial actions are particularly problematic for the city-state, some analysts say, because they undercut its image as a quiet, predictable place to do business, especially compared to places like Indonesia, Vietnam and China, which have faced a series of strikes and sit-ins at factories in recent years. Strikes can also highlight the degree to which Singapore remains reliant – some say too reliant – on cheap imported labor to keep its economy churning, despite complaints from local citizens who feel the foreigners drive wages down, strain local infrastructure and even mar the image of the country.
“The problems that the workers described are not unusual,” said Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME), a migrant worker advocacy group. “When you are earning so little and have huge recruitment debts to pay off, every single cent counts,” he said, though noting he had not heard of recurring complaints about the two construction companies.
A worker quoted on Yahoo! News Singapore said it was common for laborers to work from 8am to 10pm. It wasn’t immediately possible to verify his account. Eyewitnesses present said they were allowed limited interaction with the workers, as they said police were present supervising the sit-in and had cordoned off the area.
The Ministry of Manpower, responsible for labor disputes and policies in the city-state, said their initial investigations confirmed that the workers were indeed not being paid, but that the companies were making arrangements to pay November salaries to all workers by 8 p.m. on Feb. 6, after the sit-in, with the December salaries to be paid by the end of the week. The sit-in ended about eight hours after it started.
While it is unclear whether officials from the ministry were involved in negotiating the payments, representatives from the ministry said in a statement that they will interview the workers on other issues relating to their employment.
“MOM does not condone employers who fail to pay salaries on time, or fail to upkeep and maintain the foreign workers they have brought in,” said a spokesperson from the ministry in a statement. “MOM urges workers to report to MOM early if they have salary arrears.”
Initial comments on the strike posted on the Straits Times and The Online Citizen websites underscored the country’s rift when it comes to the issue of foreign workers, with some alleging that the incident was just one step away from riots and warning that Monday’s incident could set a precedent, encouraging others to strike, while other readers defended the workers, saying they had been treated like slave labor.
Singapore has often been criticized for having fairly light protections for the country’s army of low-wage migrant workers, though last year the ministry pledged to strengthen enforcement and provide “sufficient deterrence” to ensure laws are not flouted. There is no minimum wage in Singapore, though workers in the construction industry, protected by the Employment Act, are eligible for weekly days off.
Still, those from migrant rights groups in the city say huge gaps still remain in legal protections afforded to migrant workers, since employers have a unilateral right to terminate the contracts of their workers and repatriate them, even when they demand their wages to be paid fairly.
“Adequate protection for workers would mean that they are allowed to seek effective redress for unfair dismissals, and that their stay in Singapore is not determined by the whims and fancies of unreasonable employers,” said Mr. Wham.
Because Singaporeans themselves are unwilling to do low-skilled jobs, foreign workers are crucial to the country’s economy, particularly with many new developments and transport links being built every year. A month ago, the country’s National Development Minister said that the HDB, responsible for government-regulated housing, is accelerating its building program and would need about 30,000 construction workers for this project alone, and increase from 18,000 last year. Most recent government figures indicate that there are more than 240,000 work permit holders in the construction industry.