An interview with lawyer Ranjit Saha was very helpful in seeing the legal aspects of the migrant workers Crisis. Although not much was discussed in the interview, it could be safe to conclude that in his opinion, NGOs such as TWC2 and HOME have not played a large role in supporting the migrant workers and the government has done more than possible to provide the workers with safe and healthy lives. Although the NGOs help in diminishing the social barriers and encourage locals to interact with migrant workers through funds, NGO’s are unable to make a proper change in the migrant workers’ lives through legal means. From what I was able to understand from this interview, the government seems to be playing a larger role than we think they do. Although it seems like it is just now after COVID that they are creating new dormitories with more facilities, it turns out that the government has been trying to support the migrant workers through several means. According to Mr Saha, the main problems that the migrant workers face are, not receiving their salary on time, health insurance, employment disputes and workplace injuries. The lawyer, Mr Saha confirmed that there are several cases of migrant workers who do not receive their salary on time, or are not given the correct amount, refused to be given health insurance or are not taken care of by the employer. However, these cases are handled by the MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and in most of these cases, the employers, labour brokers and facilities are fined and the migrant workers receive compensation. Therefore, the only mistreatment or problems that the workers are facing at the moment under the pandemic is unemployment and health safety. However, for these issues as well, the government has created an alternative position where migrant workers are still paid a basic amount of money (Basic Salary) for basic necessities and are provided shelter and health checkups in Singapore hospitals.
An interview with Dr Ramatullah (Hamid Razak Rahmatullah), an Associate Consultant and ex-Chief Resident in the specialty of Orthopaedic Surgery with the Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) was very important as it helped in enlarging my understanding the depths behind the treatment of the migrant workers s. While all of his answers were in great detail, especially regarding the health benefits and drawbacks of the migrant workers s, a point that stood out was his opinion on the government working for the migrant workers s:
“[Dr Rahmatullah]: Policy-wise, there’s definitely differences how a foreign workers is treated versus a citizen, for example, and I think at a policy level, at a national level, you must understand that this is not just peculiar to Singapore but it is the same in many other countries as well. So as dogma we cannot be hypocritical, and call out our government for treating our foreign workers differently.”
Dr Rahmatullah has a very contrasting opinion to Braema. Where Braema feels the government is not doing enough for the migrant workers, Dr Rahmatullah feels they are doing as much as they can. He makes it clear that the Singaporean government has been taking measures to provide the migrant workers with sufficient protection and that it is to the best of their ability, considering their status in society. His point of view in my opinion, makes as much sense as Braema’s perspective, as a community we should not have such a high-myopic view or harbour such high standards and expectations. His statement on the role of the government led to the next questions, “Are we paying them too low a wage for the work that they do? If we are paying a low wage how are we then helping them with other aspects of their living conditions?” The feedback from Braema and Dr Rahmatullah did not really go against my opinion but it gave me a new pathway to think about – is the government doing enough for the migrant workers and is providing basic necessities enough to make them feel accepted?
From this interview, I feel like I understood that being treated differently is a given, and it is really a global phenomenon where a government is expected to treat their citizens well first and then think about the rest of the population. It is unjust to expect a country to treat everyone equally as there is no country that is so generous.
For my EA, I conducted my first interview with Braema Mathi who is the former President of the human rights group MARUAH to obtain background knowledge on the migrant workers here in Singapore. Braema is currently greatly involved with the present migrant workers crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic so I felt this would be a fantastic opportunity to understand the perspective of an activist who has been working with migrant workers for a long time. The workers crisis in Singapore is about the migrant workers who during the COVID-19 pandemic have faced multiple hardships. With the factories and workplaces shut down due to the lockdown imposed in the country, the migrant workers have had to deal with loss of income, food shortages and uncertainty about their future. Thus, Braema has been working with MARUAH to specifically point out the poor living conditions at foreign workers dormitories. Post-COVID she felt that the recent media coverage of the new COVID-19 clusters in foreign workers dormitories have exposed the bad conditions of these living spaces which are unclean, cramped, and have poor hygiene standards. Through MARUAH, Braema and her team have been trying to promote and raise awareness, knowledge and understanding of human rights and related issues in Singapore.
I had the opportunity to interview Braema (through zoom) which I believe allowed me to obtain a broader understanding of the perspective of the migrant workers who have been residing in such unfair living conditions. In the interview, Braema initially explained the history of how Singapore first brought in its migrant workers and how important these workers are today. One of the comments that Braema made was that social class was prevalent in Singapore ever since the country accepted migrant workers. My questions were mostly based on social class in Singapore and cultural bias against migrant workers, and how they were and still are being segregated from our larger community. In Braema’s opinion, the segregation could only be diminished when the workers received their basic necessities from the government.
The pandemic has essentially revealed how more than the Singaporean government, it is the Singaporean society which is culturally biased and refuses to accept these migrant workers into their communities. What was most interesting for me during this interview is how far back the cultural bias dates in segregating our Singaporean societies from migrant workers. Additionally it was unsettling to realize the amount of migrant workers in Singapore who are treated as though they are expendable and are expected to only work on site and not live their lives as residents. This interview was definitely eye-opening as it was exposing both the Singaporean society and government for not playing its role as viable employers.
The Global Politics External Assessment requires a hands-on experience to help us grasp a deeper understanding of our projects. For my External Assessment, I want to evaluate the cultural bias in Singapore against the Bangladesh migrant workers preceding and in the aftermath of the COVID virus. I also want to focus on the Singaporean government which has only recently decided to take action towards the protection of the migrant workers through proper shelter (new dormitories) and health security (basic funds which cover daily meals, basic necessities and health insurance). In Singapore, the migrant workers are one of the most marginalised groups, the sub-community expected to work behind the scenes, and disappear from our society after they are done. Although Singapore is extremely multicultural, the population is still segregated through cultural bias. The migrant workers s, unfortunately falling into one of these more excluded and socially judged or scrutinised groups. During this period of pandemic, NGOs have been uncovering the treatment of the migrant workers and now have been working together to provide the workers with more rights. These NGOs are working towards providing the migrant workers s health and economic stability. However, what I want to find out is what more we can do to provide our migrant workers more protection and security. While I was initially introduced to the mistreatment of the migrant workers through the multiple public interviews on sites such as EmancipAsia, I was not surprised to hear that employers and facilities sometimes do not provide money and benefits on time. I was also surprised to know that Singapore’s society in general to a large extent refuses to accept them as a part of the community. This is what led me to become really interested in this political issue due to its links to human rights and justice. I wanted to explore the Singaporean society as I have lived here for most of my life and I would like to further engage my passion towards my Engagement Activity.