17 December 2015

Happy International Migrants Day to All!

17 December 2015

Tomorrow is International Migrants Day.

It is a day to show our collective appreciation for the various contributions of our foreign workers for the work that they do to benefit Singapore and Singaporeans.

I have joined the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for three months now, and I thought I’d share some reflections after meeting up with some of them at a dormitory recently.

7.30 pm: Our foreign workers returned to their dormitories after a hard day’s work, and the place came alive!  

Many were whipping up dishes for dinner (smells good!).Others were making long-distance phone calls to connect with their loved ones back home, while the rest chilled out over some movies (and sports). Lots of smiles and laughter everywhere I turned, and I even got some invitations for dinner (tried and it tasted good!).

Touring the dormitory with the dormitory operators

"Ok, don't drool, I give you some!" :-)

 Visiting groups having dinner. "Can I half squat and eat? My knees painful, can't sit down" :-)

Taking a break myself. 

Having lived and worked overseas for a period of time while in the private sector, (I imagined myself in their shoes) I can empathize with them. It is challenging for them working in a foreign land with limited access to their families. Some may feel homesick. But I was quite heartened to see the kind of camaraderie and boisterous atmosphere here.

At this point, I thought about those online articles on the mistreatment of foreign workers. But based on what I saw, most of them are well-adjusted and taken care of. In any case, when there were instances of mistreatment, MOM would look into them.

Just check out the gym. Some workers were working out in spite of the physical demands of their work (they stuck to a regular regime)! Where did they get their energy from? Must find out their secret. The gym was quite well-equipped. In fact, I was told that many other dormitories were also equipped with good quality equipment!

Looking fit, healthy and stylo!

Tempted to check out the machine too! But better don't embarrass myself :-)

 Sam’s Curry

MOS Sam Tan also visited two other dormitories recently. He told me similar things, and he even received a culinary lesson on preparing delicious Indian curry from a very friendly worker! Hey bro, when can I try your new-found cooking skill? 

What’s cooking? Sam looking too serious. #learningbystaring

 Community Living in Action

8.30pm: Next stop, the Recreation Centre located near the dormitories

Checking out the shops and amenities

A foodcourt at the Recreation Centre. Just like a hawker centre.

Workers chilling out over some drinks and good company

I saw many foreign workers having drinks and chit-chatting, occasionally bursting into laughter. The atmosphere was lively.

As I toured the area, one of the things that caught my attention was a well-stocked supermarket, which was busy. I also spotted a barber, remittance facilities and an ATM in the same area. Very convenient for the workers.

The busy scene at the supermarket

Like all of us, foreign workers deserve a comfortable place to rest and play after a long day’s work, especially those from the Construction sector. We should provide them a home away from home, especially when they have to work so hard. I am glad to see that care has been taken to locate these recreation centres close to their dormitories, to allow workers easy access to facilities and shops to cater to their daily needs.   

A collective effort needed

I had wanted to walk the ground and visit the dormitories to see for myself how our foreign workers are living and find out about their experiences working here. I am glad to see many of them settling in well and are happy working in Singapore.

I feel reassured that the system we have in place has largely fulfilled its purpose to ensure the well-being of foreign workers. That being said, there is always room to improve.
A community effort with employers, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and other partners is important to ensure a safe, fair and enjoyable working environment for our foreign workers, who are many miles away from their homes and families.  

Over the years, public service officers and NGO staff and volunteers have worked hard to lend a helping hand to foreign workers in need. They have also played a big part in promoting greater understanding between our local and foreign workers, so that all workers can enjoy a harmonious co-existence at their workplaces.
This was the scene at the “You Come My Picnic” event organised by the Migrant Workers Centre last Sunday. MOM officers took the opportunity to set up booths to share information about working in Singapore, including our employment laws, and workplace safety and health matters.

Long queues waiting to check out MOM’s booths

Common workplace safety and health hazards are highlighted. We believe that all injuries can be prevented.

Take a quiz and receive a gift. Now, you can help us to spread tips on having harmony at the workplace.

Disseminating MOM’s information leaflets to everyone. No language barrier because our leaflets come in different languages.

Can you spot the work pass that has expired?

Working together at work and at play

Reflections and Parting Words

While much is already being done for our foreign workers, we will continue to review our policies and processes to ensure that they keep up with the times. At the same time, our collaboration with NGOs must continue so that foreign workers will have easy access to various avenues for assistance.

The other day, someone asked me if we appreciate our foreign workers only on International Migrants Day. I’m glad that question was asked. International Migrants Day is the culmination of all the little things we do for our foreign workers throughout the year.  (We listen, help and try to resolve any issues wherever possible.) It is not the only time we show our appreciation for them. It’s always good to have a day dedicated to celebrating their contributions.

While many of our foreign workers are more than able to take care of themselves, some may need more help from us. I will continue to join my fellow MOM colleagues, who work behind the scenes, to help those in need.

I believe that what we do collectively goes a long way towards making a difference to their lives, and I really appreciate the warmth that they showered me during my visit.

On this note, I wish all our foreign worker friends a happy International Migrants Day and all the best in the year ahead!

-Ser Luck
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