MIGRANT WORKER NGOs CALL FOR DOMESTIC WORKERS TO BE INCLUDED IN THE EMPLOYMENT ACT, AMONG OTHER REFORMS
The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) is calling for the Ministry of Manpower to include domestic workers under the Employment Act and to implement major reforms to protect the rights of migrant workers in Singapore. This call is in response to the Ministry of Manpower's recent announcement to make amendments to the Employment Act, which covers about 1.4 million employees. Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) also endorses these calls.
There are approximately 600,000 work permit holders (excluding domestic workers) who fall within the ambit of the Act. Their numbers are expected to grow in the coming years to meet the demand for more workers for Singapore’s development projects. Therefore, the proposed amendments should also reflect the interests of migrant workers, who form a significant proportion of low wage workers in Singapore.
The MOM has expressed the need to ‘take a balanced approach between employment protection for workers and the need to maintain Singapore's labour market flexibility and competitiveness’1 However, we believe that having progressive laws which uphold migrant worker’s rights need not necessarily be at the expense of the country’s economy. While the proposed changes are welcome, their likely impact is limited and more can still be done to ensure that the interests and rights of migrant workers are respected.
The Employment Act should include Domestic Workers
The number of domestic workers in Singapore has grown to approximately 180,000. Practically all are women migrant workers. They are the poorest of poor workers in Singapore in terms of wages, legal protection, occupational mobility and other conditions of employment. By including them in the Employment Act, provisions relating to contracts of service; payment of salary; rest days; hours of work; holidays; paid annual leave and sick leave; maternity protection and benefits; procedures for claims, complaints and investigations into offences---essential laws which have been denied to them---will be their basic rights. Current arrangements, such as the use of a standard contract and the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act are insufficient to ensure full and equal protection.
Singapore can and should follow the lead of Hong Kong, which has set a positive example by ensuring domestic workers have a statutory weekly day of rest, public holidays, maternity leave and the right to a minimum wage.
As a signatory of the UN Convention on the Elimination for All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Singapore should work towards the elimination of labour discrimination operating against domestic workers and afford them equal protection to other employees. Article 11(d) of CEDAW calls for the “right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value”
Additional reasons for their inclusion under these laws are set out in the global and regional rationale for supporting an International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Domestic Workers in 2010. This can be found in Appendix A
Other Employment Act Reforms
The Ministry of Manpower should reform current laws which make it difficult for workers to pursue their claims. HOME has received many cases of non-domestic migrant workers who have given up pursuing their claims at the MOM because the enforcement of Labour Court orders are complicated, costly and time consuming.
The time periods for which claims can be made under the Act should also be changed. While it is necessary to place time limits for allowable claims, the current time bars are too short and need to be extended to ensure that workers can pursue their claims fully.
Provisions for a minimum wage should also be made to protect vulnerable migrant workers, including domestic workers, from wage exploitation and abuse.
More details about the proposed reforms for domestic workers and other migrant workers can be found in Appendix B
1) Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics:
Name: Jolovan Wham, Executive Director
Tel: 6297 5950
HP: 9771 5349
Fax: 6297 5949
2) Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)
Name: John Devasahayam, Office Manager
Tel: 6247 7001
Fax: 6396 0759