MARUAH Labour Day statement

Dear Members, Volunteers and Friends,

Today is Labour Day. MARUAH would like to wish all Singaporean and foreign workers a happy Labour Day!

We would like to appreciate the work put in, on a daily basis, by all in Singapore. A worker needs to be respected not just on May 1st but everyday.

The government is increasing its efforts to offer more protection and security to workers. In the recent year these are some of the efforts:

  1. More measures to enable workers to upgrade skills,
  2. More measures to protect workers with regard to Workplace Safety and Health,
  3. Incentives to hire persons with disabilities (PWDs),
  4. Legislation on mandatory day-off for Foreign Domestic Workers,
  5. Anti-discrimination campaign in workplaces by fair employment watchdog, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP)

However, MARUAH is deeply concerned about two issues this Labour Day and seeks remedial action for two communities that need protection the most.

The first issue is the protection of the rights of our lower-end wage earners.

Earning SGD$1,500 per month is just not enough. According to the article “Mindset Change Needed to Help Low-wage Workers” (Straits Times, Feb 7, 2012), government figures show that there were 236,300 Singaporeans and residents who earned a gross income of less than $1,000 per month as of June last year, up from 218,700 a decade earlier. [i] Looking at household income figures, the situation is similar as 2010 figures show more than 100,000 households with $1,400 monthly income.

While the pool of people earning less than $1,500 is getting larger, latest available expenditure figures, covering 2007/2008, show that Singaporean households in the bottom fifth of the income scale, actually needed around $1,700 a month to cover basic costs of living like food and utilities. But they were earning an average of only $1,274 per month at that time.

There is a disconnect. For the worker and his/her family, it has dire consequences on the ground as they simply cannot make ends meet and care for their family well. This is an area of grave concern and the situation will get worse unless we look at adequate social security for this community.

Wages of our lower-end workers have slid downwards . The same ST article reported that the median gross wage for cleaners and labourers was $1,277 in 2000. Ten years later, instead of rising, the wages fell to $960. For cleaners of industrial buildings, the median gross wage is even lower, at around $600 in 2010.

There have been recent calls for a minimum wage to be instituted, to protect lower-end workers against exploitation. MARUAH joins this call and urges the government to look into the right of all workers to fair wages. This is one of the rights within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which Singapore, being a member of the United Nations, has pledged to achieve.

Article 23 of the UDHR states:-

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The second issue that MARUAH highlights here is the protection for the more than 200,000 foreign domestic workers who work in our homes.

We urge the government to ban the cleaning of windows (outside frames) in high-rise homes. Employers, as in any workplace have a duty to protect the worker against harm and even self-harm (when workers can be overly enthusiastic).

A country of origin has imposed rules to protect its workers from a safety perspective. As a country that takes pride in being part of an international community that vigorously promotes safety at worksites, the current situation is unacceptable. The home is also a worksite in this scenario, and MARUAH urges the government to put a stop to these unnecessary deaths – already one too many.

This Labour Day, MARUAH acknowledges the efforts by the government to protect workers. But we also ask that the government consider what we see as two critical areas that need immediate attention to ensure that all workers live in dignity and are protected.

We wish all Singaporeans and foreigners who work here an enjoyable May Day.


From all us @ MARUAH

[i] The figure excludes incomes of full-time national servicemen.

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