But underlying the happy occasion were also concerns about some aspects of their lives here in Singapore which many of these workers face.
In a statement released at the event, HOME called on the government to provide protection for these workers who number more than a million in Singapore and makes up about one-third of the workforce. “All migrant workers, including those in the construction, marine, manufacturing and services sectors find it difficult to bargain for better working conditions,” HOME said, “because employers have the unilateral power to repatriate them to their countries without just cause.”
The organisation said workers face excessive agency fees and “many have to suffer physical, verbal and sexual abuse”, along with “wage theft, work injuries and poor working conditions.”
“Access to justice is prohibitive because of long delays, complicated procedures, and high legal costs,” it added. “Many are also not provided with adequate medical care, decent accommodation, food and social support.”
The organisation also expressed concerns that migrant domestic workers are excluded from the Employment Act and Work Injury Compensation Act. While the government recently announced the introduction of a compulsory day off for these workers, which will take effect next year, HOME says these workers are nonetheless still denied other basic protections which are granted to workers in other sectors. “As a result,” it said, “labour rights such as medical and annual leave, maternity leave, public holidays, overtime pay, and limits on working hours are not guaranteed to them.”
The group then called on the government to:
- Ratify the UN Convention on Migrant Workers, the UN Trafficking Protocol, and the ILO Domestic Workers Convention.
- Recognise the contributions of low wage workers to the country.
- Take urgent action to eliminate violence and exploitation of all workers.
- Respect our civil rights to promote and champion issues that concern us.
HOME had earlier applied to the authorities for a permit to organise a walk to commemorate Labour Day. The request was denied.
“We had planned to walk along East Coast Park with t-shirts containing the slogan ‘Walk with workers: upholding the dignity of labour’. Despite the fact that the walk would only involve 60-70 people, and there would be no banners, placards or chants, the police cited ‘law and order’ concerns to deny us the right to assemble and walk in solidarity with workers all over the world,” the statement said.
In her address to the workers, Ms Bridget Tan, president and founder of HOME, said the organisation will always do its best to help the workers. She was also cheered to see the workers enjoying themselves on Sunday, like little children at school, she said, to applause from the workers.
[See HOME’s Labour Day message below.]
Here are some pictures from Sunday’s commemorative event at East Coast Park.
HOME's Labour Day Message:
As Singapore celebrates May Day 2012, we call on Singapore and our labour union movement to address the concerns of the one million men and women migrants in the workforce. Since the influx of migrant labour to serve in the 3D (dangerous, dirty, and demeaning) work sectors, we continue to see the injustice that migrant workers experience and denied of their rights as workers. Among the concerns raised include the need for enforceable standardized contracts, a more just recruitment and employment system for migrant workers, exploring the possibility of adopting a wage system based on the recognition of skills and experience, and the inclusion of migrants in social security and reintegration programmes.
Migrant domestic workers serving one in five families in Singapore continue to be excluded from national labour legislation. More than 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Singapore are among the poorest of low wage workers earning approximately $1 an hour for a 16-18 hour work day. Many complain of abusive and exploitative conditions, working 6 to 10 months and paid only an allowance of $20 a month under a debt bondage system. And even as we applaud the mandatory weekly rest day for domestic workers, we are disappointed that under the new law, the day off is kept flexible and they are denied a 24 hours’ rest day as with other workers.
On May Day, domestic workers in Singapore are denied this holiday and all other gazetted public holidays. Why are migrant workers, wrongfully dismissed, faced with financial burdens from debt to recruiters, non- payment of salaries, denied job mobility and without union representation? These are some of the grievances of the migrant workers who continue to work under a work permit system that creates the conditions for labour exploitation not unlike modern slavery.
In June 2011, Geneva, the world community cheered the adoption of ILO C 189 ‘Decent Work for Domestic Workers’ and a year hence we applaud the ratification of this convention by Uruguay. Here in Singapore we are waiting for our neighbours, the Philippines and Indonesia to lead ASEAN countries to ratify this long awaited convention and we hope Singapore will also do the right thing to recognise domestic workers as workers and uphold their rights under our national labour legislation.
On this May Day, we call our State once more to recognise the significant contribution of our men and women migrant workforce by the ratification of ILO C189 Domestic Workers Convention 2011 and the Migrant Workers Convention 1990 under which the employment rights of migrant workers will be upheld, as follows:
“Right of equal treatment with nationals in respect to remuneration and other conditions of work such as overtime, holidays, etc. (article 25); Right to join freely any trade union (article 26); Right to enjoy the same treatment as nationals regarding social security benefits in so far as they fulfill the legislation requirements (articles 27); Right to emergency medical care (article 28).”
In solidarity, with workers of the world may we in Singapore be resolved to end all contemporary forms of slavery for all workers including migrant workers in the labour force. Happy May Day!
President & Founder