International Migrants Day 2012

Today is International Migrants Day. In 2000 the UN General Assembly proclaimed 18th December as International Migrants Day to raise attention to the rights of the large and increasing number of migrants in the world. In 1990 the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

In Singapore, MARUAH, a human rights organisation, observes International Migrants Day by commenting on the treatment of foreign workers by employers in Singapore in general, in light of the recent incidents of foreign workers refusing to work. In particular, we encourage Singaporeans and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to give full effect to the new policy of giving a Day Off to foreign domestic workers starting in the 1st week of January 2013.

MARUAH’s position is that MOM has not been even-handed in how it handles employers who treat their foreign workers improperly, as opposed to how it deals with desperate foreign workers driven to extreme measures. This is demonstrated by its responses to the strike by the SMRT bus drivers and the incidents this year involving unpaid foreign workers climbing up cranes.

We say that the current system has failed to protect foreign workers, and they are the ones bearing the primary burden of this inadequacy. The fact that they have been driven to extreme actions is an indictment on our system. We hope that MOM will review its entire approach to dealing with foreign workers’ grievances, protect migrant workers in a fairer and more transparent manner than has been apparent so far, and sanction errant employers as appropriate.

On the other hand, we do commend MOM for finally implementing a weekly rest day for foreign domestic workers (FDWs). But we also note the key flaw in this policy, that employers will retain the option to pay FDWs to retain their services on their Day Off.

Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”

We say that this Day Off provision does not do enough for FDWs caught in exploitative situations, unless MOM increases its ability to monitor employers and their payments made to FDWs in lieu of the days off, and to ensure that FDWs will have adequate rest.

Anything less will mean that this Day Off gesture is empty in execution and weak in spirit of the intention of the policy.
Therefore this International Migrants Day, we ask MOM to add real teeth to its Day Off policy, and introduce measures to ensure that foreign domestic workers do indeed receive adequate rest.

We also take this opportunity to call on the Singapore Government to publish a road map on the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Lastly we thank all of our migrant workers from the various countries for helping us in Singapore, and more often than not, for being good workers.

Ms Braema Mathi

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