21 December 2011

Paying Tribute to our Migrant Worker Friends

21 December 2011

I was at the launch of the Migrant Workers’ Centre’s (MWC) photo exhibition today at NTUC Centre, a three-day exhibition held in conjunction with International Migrants’ Day.

What struck me were the facets of the migrant workers’ lives that were depicted through the photographs. They were very candid photos of workers in their various states of work and play.

One particular photo caught my attention. It showed migrant workers toasting at an appreciation dinner held by their company. I think the photo personifies how employers need to ensure they treat migrant workers with respect.

(“Yum Seng!” Migrant workers toast to a successful year at an appreciation dinner organized for them by their company)

We should show our appreciation to them as they are an integral part of our society and play an important role at that. They are the workers that build the infrastructure that we enjoy every day and the very homes that we live in. And they do all this, while being away from their loved ones back home.

Although it is hard, most of them have managed to adjust to life here in Singapore, despite the challenges they face every day. But behind these successful stories are the unseen hands of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as MWC. They have helped to promote greater understanding and acceptance as well as harmonious co-existence between our migrant workers and locals.

MWC has also done well to help migrant workers by providing humanitarian assistance, advice as well as recreational and social activities for them. Since it began its operations in April 2009, MWC has assisted some 2,700 migrant workers, which includes 240 who were rendered homeless. One of the workers that MWC assisted, Mr Egan Karuppaiah, was there at the event. He was even on stage to launch the photo exhibition with me and the other guests. For those who do not remember him, Egan was brutally attacked in a robbery last year. I spoke to him briefly and was inspired by the spirit he showed – he has since recovered and is still undergoing rehabilitation after his fingers were re-attached.

(MOS and Egan having a chat at the event)

Besides MWC, we also have other NGOs such as Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), UNIFEM Singapore and Health Serve who work tirelessly with the Government to help migrant workers in distress. I was pleased to meet Dr Goh Wei-Leong from Health Serve. I am grateful for their volunteer services to migrant workers as well as needy Singaporeans in the areas of primary medical care, counseling and legal assistance. As we see here, the NGOs play an important role, and our Ministry will continue to work closely with NGOs on the welfare of migrant workers and further improve the workers’ well-being while they work in Singapore. 

Looking ahead, we plan to amend the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) in 2012. This will strengthen our enforcement capabilities as well as hold employers and other stakeholders more accountable for the basic employment rights and well-being of migrant workers. We will be consulting with key stakeholders on this, including NGOs. 

On this note, I urge employers to continue to look after the welfare of the migrant workers under your charge, and to treat them fairly. This is especially important as we brace ourselves for the uncertain global economic outlook that is on our horizons.

To end off, let me extend my appreciation once again to all migrant workers in Singapore. I hope we have made a difference to your lives, the same way you have made a difference to ours.

Thank you – from all of us at MOM.

MOS Tan Chuan-Jin
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