Before Singapore became the sprawling metropolis it is today, it was a small island nation with not much to show for itself. It was a small island trading hub, covered in forests, and inhabited by much fewer people than it is today. This all changed when Lee Kuan Yew took action as the first prime minister of Singapore and started to develop and grow the country. We can thank migrant workers for much of this change, for without them perhaps the entire Marina Bay skyline would not exist, along with many more iconic parts of Singapore. Migrant workers are the base of our society and without them a lot of the country we all live in today wouldn’t be the same. But if they are so important, then why are they treated so badly? For all that they do for us, the least they deserve is a sense of security and respect for their hard work.
In Singapore, there are over 100,000 migrant workers of which 70+% are Indian or Bangladeshi. Generally they come to Singapore looking for a stable job, from which they can send their families’ back money and pay back their debts from coming to Singapore. It is a job they are looking at having for a good 5 – 10 years, so that they can hopefully save enough money to be able to go back home and set up a business of their own. From hindsight it sounds great, but the job in truth is not as it seems, and many workers end up drowning in debt and with no options left and nowhere to go. This is due to the unreliability of their employers, who often leave them hanging with no pay or insurance when things go awry. Many of the workers are not paid their full salary each month, and some aren’t even paid at all. Because they can’t afford lawyers, and their employers can fake their payment slips there is almost nothing they can do about it. What’s more, if a worker was to get injured, the owner is free to “fire” them at any time, so as to not take responsibility for their medical fees. Being already weighed down by heavy debts, and having nowhere else to go, this leaves the workers with no options and can put them in extremely tough situations. In my opinion the whole ordeal is absolutely disgraceful, and the Singaporean government should feel incredibly ashamed for allowing their workforce to be exploited so freely, with no consequences for the abusers.
Luckily organisations like TWC2 are there to help these troubled migrant workers to get back on their feet, but that is only a temporary solution, for a problem that is much deeper than that. In order for the current situation to change for the future, the problem has to be addressed by people with real power to change things, such as the government. They can’t keep giving the problem a blind eye and pretending it doesn’t exist, because in the end it will end up seriously affecting the migrant workers, the government and the future of Singapore. One thing that needs to change is the rights and job security that they have. It is completely unjust for them to pay a huge fee to come to Singapore, and then be liable to being laid off and becoming unemployed, with nowhere else to go. They should also be given medical insurance so that if they become injured at any time, they will be taken care of and don’t have to risk losing their job.
Migrant workers are an incredible work force, and an essential part of the Singaporean community. They deserve to be treated as such and should be respected and considered equals in our society. For such a culturally diverse place such as Singapore, I’m sure that is not too much to ask, especially considering the freedom and human rights that we pride ourselves in. With a bit more job security, and control from the government, migrant workers can have an even more powerful impact on our country, and can become people we live amongst rather than people we live by.
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