EDITOR’S UPDATE: A recent BBC News report includes a video on some china workers in Singapore who are working at Marina Bay Sands IR project striking over pay and working conditions: see here.
Written by Ng E-Jay
09 June 2009
Human trafficking is one of the worst human rights abuses in the globalized world. Has Singapore done its part to crack down on organized groups forcing foreign women into prostitution in Singapore? Has Singapore done its part to ensure that employers who abuse workers, cheat them, or deprive them of their rights to proper living conditions and a fair wage are promptly dealt with? Sadly to this day, the answer is no.
In my article “Government’s pledge to protect foreign workers’ rights should go beyond mere empty talk” which I penned on 16 Jan this year, I highlighted that in recent months, foreign workers have complained about being unpaid, unfed, poorly housed, and in some cases, even abandoned, but that unless the Government is willing to take more concrete measures to address the root causes of foreign worker abuse in Singapore, its pledge to protect foreign workers’ rights will remain largely as empty talk.
The root cause of this problem, in my opinion, is our “growth at all cost” policy, which emphasizes GDP growth at the expense of human rights and sustainable development, and a complicit Government which apparently is slow in addressing the abuse of foreign workers in Singapore because of the immense pressure to import large quantities of cheap labour to support our enormous projects like the Integrated Resorts (Singapore’s euphemism for casinoes).
Yawning Bread articles (here, here, here, here and here) chronicle that sorry tale of some China workers who had not been paid for months, or who had arbitrary deductions made from their salaries, and who had been detained by the employers’ agents, police and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority in preparation for deportation. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) did very little to the help the workers even though the employer appeared to be breaking the law. At one stage, MOM even revoked the work permits of workers without first ensuring that their wage claims had been settled.
The initial pussyfooting by the Ministry of Manpower over these gross violations of Singapore’s Employment Act and the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, and in some instances, outrightly turning a blind eye to the obvious abuses that were going on right under their nose, is deplorable. It was only after hordes of foreign workers starting descending on MOM premises to protest about their plight that concrete action was taken against the errant companies. Even so, it remains to be seen whether the workers’ claims were resolved in a fair manner, or whether much was shoved under the carpet.
A Channel News Asia report “MOM recovers about S$800,000 in claims for workers” published on 08 June 2009 revealed that MOM had recovered about S$800,000 in claims on behalf of 750 workers between January and April this year, and that 86% of cases had been heard and concluded by the Labour Court within two weeks from the first hearing. The report did not state what was the actual amount claimed by the workers, and it is impossible to deduce whether the $800,000 recovered represents fair compensation for the workers, or is a mere fraction of the total amount that was due to them.
Another aspect to the human trafficking situation in Singapore is that of illegal prostitution of foreign women who are lured to Singapore with promises of employment, only to find themselves being turned into sex slaves.
A disturbing blog article entitled “Sex trafficking in Singapore” posted on 05 June 2009 aggregates a number of media reports about foreign women being forced into prostitution in Singapore, with apparently no concrete action being taken against perpetrators of this crime.
One of the articles mentioned is a piece published by The New Paper on 09 Feb 2009 entitled “Escape from Geylang brothel“. This article is about the story of an Indian national who had been duped into coming to Singapore on the prospect of being employed as a maid here, but who subsequently found herself being driven to a house in Geylang and being forced into prostitution. She was eventually taken in by a Singaporean woman, but only after being rescued by another man who demanded a sexual favour from her in return for it.
Although the Indian lady related that there were close to 40 prostitutes from India and Bangladesh in that house, and about five were being held against their will, the police claimed that there was no evidence of syndicate activity. To date, there has been no follow-up on the case.
Could some women have been illegally trafficked into Singapore to provide sexual services for the large number of foreign workers here?
It is a great shame that our authorities are dragging their feet on the serious issue of human trafficking in Singapore, but are instead focussed obsessively on pump-priming the economy without regard to the environmental or social consequences of their policies.
The human trafficking situation should be given more extensive coverage by both mainstream and alternative media, so as to put greater political pressure on the Government to tackle it decisively.