Saturday, November 13, 2010


Was reading Psalm 72 this morning, and some of the verses only seemed to guide along my thoughts on something that I've been thinking about since coming back to Japan.

Now, you may or may not remember I put up a post a few months ago about foreign workers in Singapore, but every now and then, I am reminded about how much they have to struggle to eke out a living working in a foreign country. It certainly doesn't help when the people who employ them or bring them in don't really seem to understand their situation.

And now I would like to make a disclaimer, that I am not an economics major (much to my parents' disappointment, I believe haha). Neither did I specialize in any of the following fields: business management, sociology, social work, political science. I was a history student (and a rather poor one at that), so what I am about to say is a very simple perception of the whole situation in Singapore. If you know better and feel that I have made an error in my assumptions, please feel free to correct me.

So now, back to the issue at hand. Short summary:
  1. Foreign workers (mostly from the Indian sub-continent) have to borrow lots of money in order to come to Singapore, where they have been promised employment.
  2. The middle-men who handle the arrangements are paid a processing fee for the work they do in bringing the workers over.
  3. Employers in Singapore are allowed a quota on the number of workers they are allowed to bring in, based on their manpower estimates for their projects.
  4. Sometimes, the quota exceeds the actual need for workers (not necessarily because of unscrupulous intentions)
  5. Sometimes, the unscrupulous ones will still use up all their quota, in exchange for a cut of the processing fee.
  6. And this leaves some workers here with no work, but with plenty of debt. And because they have no work, they have to leave.
Now, the way I see it, if the government implemented a minimum wage for all foreign workers coming in to Singapore based on the quota projected by the companies, then a few things would happen:
  1. The workers would have a minimum wage rate to fall upon
  2. There would be less over-estimation of quotas, since the companies bringing people in would have to pay the minimum wage, even for people who don't have work to do.
  3. The government would be able to have a better picture of construction needs and how people are employed.
  4. Most importantly, there will be a decrease in the exploitation of workers.
I understand that this can't be a simple blanket rule to cover everything. But I think this would be a good start for some of the downtrodden. Most of them do not have a 'voice' in Singapore, since they are kept mostly to their workplaces or to their living quarters (which aren't as comfortable as you might think they are), and most Singaporeans don't usually associate with them. They don't know anyone, they don't know their rights, they don't know what to do when they are taken advantage of.

And I mean, realistically speaking, if a foreign worker went up against a company CEO, who do you think has more clout? How many people would take the side of the worker? How many would speak up for the worker? How many would even care?

I believe as Singaporeans, we have an obligation to stand up for the neighbours in our midst. In primary school, doing the 好公民 series of moral ed. books, they show how 小明 was a good citizen because he helped his neighbour when the neighbour was in trouble. Aren't these foreign workers our neighbours too? They are building up Singapore around us, even if we choose not to notice them.

Now, people may start moaning about how this post by a 'pseudo-Singaporean' (at least I did my NS) shows his un-patriotism by writing for the needs of the foreign workers, while not caring in the least for the Singaporean poor. But I would like to point out that this post in particular is meant to focus on the foreign workers in Singapore, who you may have or have not seen working to build up the wonderful city we live in today.

Second, in case you have forgotten (history major ftw), most of us are the descendants of foreign workers from overseas. Whether they came from India, China, or even the surrounding Malay archipelago, a lot of these immigrants came as manual labourers. It was by their hard work that Singapore has developed into one of the best economies in the world, and I'm sure that we would be pretty upset if people had been taking advantage of them in the past.

See also, Psalm 72:4:
"He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy;
He will crush the oppressor."
As Christians, we look on ourselves as being the afflicted and needy, but shouldn't we also be wary of becoming the 'oppressor'? Unless you take great pleasure in being crushed, then by all means, please go ahead.

So this is just my two cents worth, a short rant, if you will, on an issue that Singaporeans (especially Christians) should sit up and take notice about.

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