06 December 2013

“Excuse me, Miss – are you a… Media, Promotions and Education Officer?”

06 December 2013

“Are you really an MOM officer?”

Our colleague Cherubim Zeng remembers being slightly taken aback by the question. A foreign worker had asked her this question when she was explaining Singapore’s employment laws to him at an MOM roadshow.

The reply from the worker when she probed him further provided her with some food for thought.

“He said it was uncommon for a government officer to patiently explain things to them. The officers would usually just say, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that’,” she says.

Cherubim organises roadshows in foreign worker dormitories, and interacts directly with foreign workers 

Cherubim is a bubbly lady who hails from the Media, Promotions and Publicity Branch (MPEB) of MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division. The branch educates foreign workers here about their employment rights, responsibilities and social norms through regular roadshows and publication materials. 

Why does MOM need to reach out to the foreign worker community here? Cherubim explained that some workers may pick up inaccurate information from fellow workers, for example, thinking that it is legal to make more money by working part-time. Also, certain behaviours that may be acceptable in their home country may not be so here. So besides employment-related information, it is important that MOM educates foreign workers about our laws and social norms so that they can better assimilate into our community. 

“When we do the outreach, we always try to simplify our messages. This will make it easier for them to understand what we want to convey,” Cherubim says. She and her MPEB colleagues publicise such messages through Working in Singapore, a newsletter with employment information for foreign workers, and posters placed in dormitories. Important collaterals are also translated into major foreign worker languages to ensure that these messages are clearly understood by the workers. The team also began educating foreign workers even before they arrive in Singapore, starting with Bangladesh. They had to understand the journey a foreign worker takes to work, and identifying the key touchpoints in that journey and collaborating with the relevant people to reach out to and educate.

Reaching out through roadshows

A part of Cherubim’s job involves organising roadshows. Twenty-five of these were organised last year. Most of these roadshows were held at foreign worker dormitories, while a few were at public locations such as foreign worker-congregation areas in Geylang, Aljunied and Little India. Cherubim and the team also began reaching out to foreign workers at factory-converted dormitories last year, and this year, to temporary dormitories. These are part of their on-going efforts to extend its reach to more foreign workers. 

“We find great satisfaction in doing these roadshows, especially when the workers ask us questions or participate actively in the activities. We then know that we are addressing some of their concerns,” she says.

FMMD also participates in outreach events organised by our partners such as Migrant Workers’ Centre or foreign embassies here. Besides having game booths to facilitate learning in a fun manner, the MPEB officers also interact with the foreign workers to find out if they face any employment problems. 

To better connect with foreign workers at roadshows, Cherubim and her colleagues came up with the idea last year of having a mascot, which would act as a focal point in to capture the foreign workers’ attention. 

“A lot of effort goes into organising a roadshow, so we hope to attract as many foreign workers as possible to attend,” she says. 

The mascot, Ming the MOM officer, is now a crowd puller at the roadshows. Ming is also ever ready to pose for a photo with foreign workers who will whip out their camera phones to do so. 

“I think Ming definitely helps to ‘soften’ and ’personalise’ the image of MOM officers. In a way, with Ming, foreign workers find it easier to approach us.”

Flashing a friendly smile, Ming the mascot bridges the gap between the ministry and foreign workers

Always striving to do better, Cherubim and her team recently produced a comic book to help foreign workers understand essential employment information in an easy and light-hearted way. The book, which has been translated into different languages, has proven to be a hit, with foreign workers requesting for copies at the recent roadshows.

With colourful comics, MOM homes to better engage and educate workers 
on employment regulations, and their rights and responsibilities

Treating “guest workers” right

Cherubim’s current job may be somewhat less “cool” to some. After all, it may appear that there are few exciting moments. She says, “I may not be going after illegal foreign workers or errant employers, or conducting audits on suspicious companies. But I find my work in ensuring foreign workers know their rights and the avenues for recourse should they be in distress just as meaningful.” 

Cherubim is glad that she has the opportunity to put her marketing degree to good use in her current line of work. The sense of accomplishment she gets when she sees how well her team’s programmes are received by the audience is one of the factors which spurs her on to do more in her job. 

Cherubim is thankful that she is able to find meaning in her job

At the end of the day, Cherubim feels that educating the foreign workers is just as important as enforcement. “If the workers are aware of the rules and their rights and responsibilities, they will be less likely to flout them or fall prey to scams,” says Cherubim.

She hopes that Singaporeans will come to understand that these foreign workers are here to earn an honest living and improve the lives of their family back home. As “guest workers” or 客工 (which foreign workers are known in Chinese) here, she thinks it is only right that as the host country, we should accord them due respect and ensure they are fairly treated during their stay here.

So, look out for Ming the MOM mascot and Cherubim, if you happen to go for an MOM roadshow!
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