“Millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ’employers’.” – Anti-Slavery.Org.
In Singapore, a bustling, modern city in an ever-hurried pace to the top of nowhere, cheap labour is the ticket to get there, wherever that is. In the last 20 years and in the last 5 to 10 especially, the emergence of spanking new buildings, roads, highways, shopping malls, condominiums, have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain.
Our tiny island has become paradise on earth to some, especially rich locals and wealthy foreigners. In this puny state of some 3.2 million citizens, “nearly one in every six households has more than $1 million in assets, making it the densest population of wealthy households in the world, according to a new report byBoston Consulting Group.” (Business Week)
But of course, it is not these wealthy individuals who get their hands dirty doing the dirty manual work which gives them the posh homes and shining malls or entertainment outlets they enjoy.
No, these instead are borne by the backs of migrant workers, who toil in Singapore’s unpredictable weather of intense heat in the day time and tropical rain.
Migrant workers have become the staple, a desperate necessity for Singapore as it keeps ahead of the race among its pack of neighbours and challengers who are no slouches. Competition such as China, India and its immediate neighbour, Malaysia.
Singapore has some 800,000 migrant workers in its midst, a number which underlies its dependency and its desperation to stay afloat and stay ahead. Someone’s gotta do the dirty work.
And this back-breaking work is not much valued. Have a look at this example of a pay slip of a Bangladeshi migrant worker in Singapore:
Jolovan Wham, the executive director of non-governmental organisation, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), posted on his personal Facebook page:
“In the absence of a minimum wage law, this Bangladeshi worker will not receive any protection for being paid only $1.87/hr as a shipyard worker. Not only does he have to suffer the indignity of being paid peanuts, his employer deducts his salary for utilities bills, and other misc expenses. The employer also does not have enough work for him and as a result, he is not paid for the days that he does not work. His salary for the second half of October is a paltry sum of $187.50.”
It is unconscionable that the worker is paid such a miniscule amount, one which no Singaporean would work for. To put it bluntly, it would not be an over-exaggeration to term such practices as slavery – for this is what it is: “People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ’employers’.”
It has been said that Singapore is a hard-nosed country, a pure pragmatic city run by a bureaucratic regime which brooks no compassion. But this is not truly accurate as there are some within the ministries who would themselves be appalled by this example. Nonetheless, one hopes that such practices will be outlawed, that the very basic welfare of migrant workers are backed up by meaningful legislations and enforcement, and that any employer who contravenes these are dealt with harshly with the full force of the law.
It is not just about migrant workers. If one thinks that it is only because of them, one would be wrong. It is about more than that.
It is also about us.
It is about the kind of people we are, or the kinds of people we want to be.
I do not know about you but I would think that what being Singaporean is this: we are fair, humane, and compassionate. Let us not, as we charge ahead in the global arena, leave our hearts behind.
By any one’s standards, being paid S$187.50 for half a month’s work is utterly unacceptable.
Singaporeans deserve better than to be known as slave masters.
And I do feel that the government should make things right for workers such as the one in this example. Not to do so would be an affront to all Singaporeans who, in truth, find paying the worker such a salary contemptible.
Slavery must be abolished – yes, even in Singapore.