“The advocacy and welfare group will be submitting documentation and its observations to the authorities, and will urge that stern action be taken against the employer” (Two Foreign Workers’ Dorms Flagged For Hygiene, Safety Lapses, Alfred Chua).
This is not the first time transgressions in foreign-worker dormitories – “bedbug and cockroach infestations, overcrowded sleeping quarters, and meals left beside workers’ beds that would go bad” (TODAY, Aug. 14) – have been observed and reported, yet it is not clear the extent to which the submission of documentation and observations to the government informs the penalties meted out. In fact, the recent visits conducted by the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) bring to mind even broader questions: The prevalence of poor living conditions among foreign workers in Singapore, the avenues through which workers can consequently seek redress (and, moreover, how efficient that process is), and whether other non-government groups can help to flag more instances of similar abuse.
In the context of punishments and ramifications, in addition to the individual news stories or anecdotes, the government – through the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) – could detail the “stern action(s)” taken against employers, corresponding with the rules or regulations they have flouted. The availability of these long-term trends would bring to attention repeat offenders, and an analysis of the types or patterns of transgressions would help in the identification of regulatory loopholes. Given that the MWC has uncovered these hygiene and safety lapses, furthermore, and is currently also assisting with salary claims, it should be in its interest to follow up with the MOM, not just to ascertain the appropriateness of punitive measures, but also to ensure correction policies have been adopted.
Besides holding employers and their dormitories to greater account, it should be of interest to the government to investigate and to research – on a regular basis – the perceptions of foreign workers. Attention to immediate policy problems on the ground can be quickly addressed, and perhaps even definitions of what is deemed acceptable or liveable in dormitories could be improved. And if this is already done, then sharing these findings would allow the MWC and other non-government groups to police more actively. Employers may decry such scrutiny, though the obvious objection should be the need for or the requirement of employers to provide their workers with a decent living environment.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.