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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        13  June 2011

Worker abuse in Singapore

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After shattering his left heel bone when he fell off a ladder, Chinese national Ah Ping’s already difficult life as a laborer in Singapore took a sharp turn for the worse.

His Singaporean contractor boss refused to file an injury compensation claim, fearing it would sully the company’s record. When Ah Ping applied for it himself after nine days in hospital, things turned ugly.

“He came to me while I was resting and asked why I filed the claim. He got angry and slapped me, then he raised his fists and punched me,” said Ah Ping, 23, who did give his full name.

Fleeing the warehouse where he said his boss forced him to stay, Ah Ping went to aid group Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics seeking refuge in its shelter for exploited foreign workers.

Social workers in Singapore are reporting a rise in foreign workers who approach them with cases ranging from wage disputes to assault.

Maligned by Singaporeans for supposedly stealing jobs and causing overcrowding, foreigners holding work permits numbered more than 870,000 at the end of 2010 out of Singapore’s population of 5.1 million.

“We see an average of about 120 to 150 workers per month. Four years ago it was less, maybe about 100,” said Jolovan Wham, executive director of HOME. “The cases that we see are mostly about labor exploitation.” Even though Singapore reported a fall in foreign worker complaints from a three-year high of 3,774 in 2009 to 3,200 last year, Wham said the figure was “not reliable” as it focused on salary-related issues.

“The government sees foreign workers as digits, here to help grow the economy. They look at them as commodities,” he said.

Migrant worker advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) reported 2,178 foreign workers seeking help last year, up from 2,087 in 2009.

TWC2 executive director Vincent Wijeysingha, who lost as an opposition candidate in the May election, said the manner of the immigration discussion could hurt foreign workers even more.

“What the elections did, and we politicians must shoulder our share of responsibility for it, is that a xenophobic approach to foreigners could become widespread,” he said.

“In other countries, when a politician says something that could be viewed as xenophobic, a spike in hate crime sometimes results. It may not be entirely different in Singapore.


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It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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