Statement by Environmental Organisations on Singapore’s Migrant Worker Situation
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Singapore’s migrant workers. We call for the Singapore government, employers, and all Singaporeans to examine the systemic issues that affect migrant workers — beyond dormitory conditions — and ensure that they receive respect, fair reward for their labour and decent working and living conditions - the same treatment we would want for ourselves.
The outbreak of the virus in dormitories exposed migrant workers’ appalling living conditions. We are heartened by the outpour of donations and vocal support extended to the migrant working community in the past few months, which has led the government to improve dormitory standards. But we need to go further. Improved dormitory standards do not address the top problems that migrant workers commonly face, regardless of the sector they work in: high recruitment fees, low wages, lack of employment protections and access to healthcare, inadequate rest, vulnerability to abuse, and threats to mental health. In allowing these problems to persist, we have created two Singapores: “one for citizens, long-term residents and expatriates, and one for the low-wage migrant workers who provide the back-breaking labor upon which Singapore gleams”.
This division is a microcosm of global inequality, which is deeply intertwined with environmental injustice. We import cheap labour and resources to create wealth that only Singapore’s citizens, residents, and expats enjoy; yet the embedded costs are borne not just by migrant workers in Singapore, but their families at home as well. Singapore’s ever-expanding petrochemicals industry is a major contributor to the climate crisis. As a direct consequence, increasingly extreme weather threatens families, homes and livelihoods across the countries which many of our migrant workers come from, even though most had little part in causing the climate crisis. Singapore itself will be relatively shielded from such effects, due in no small part to migrant workers who do the back-breaking work of building seawalls, reclaimed land, solar energy installations and green buildings. Pursuing economic growth and climate adaptation at the expense of migrant workers is not justice; it is not even progress.
The advent of Covid-19 has further underscored the interdependence between our health, the health of our environment, and the health of communities that we pretend are separate and less important. The destruction of wildlife habitats unleashed the pandemic, while the exploitation of migrant workers intensified it. Solidarity is essential in dealing with these interconnected problems. As we move into Phase 2, relieved and perhaps eager for normalcy, we must not forget the underlying inequalities that Covid-19 has so recently laid bare.
As environmental groups, we advocate for diverse causes but all our concerns stem from a vision of a better world for all who share it: one where the wellbeing of communities and ecosystems take precedence over profit. We stand with all who are working to realise our shared vision of a better and more equal world.
We call for the government to consider the policies proposed by advocacy groups such as HOME (migrant workers and migrant domestic workers) and TWC2. This includes stronger regulation of recruitment practices and fees, minimum wages for workers, employment protections such as rest hours and overtime pay, flexibility to change employers or sectors beyond the current temporary scheme, changing the recent amendment that prevents workers from leaving their accomodation without their employers' “consent”, and addressing mental health needs. It is essential that the government engage migrant workers directly, as well as through these groups, so that they are directly involved in co-creating solutions to the longstanding issues they face.
We call for our fellow citizens to actively engage your Members of Parliament about migrant worker issues (refer below) and support the work of advocacy groups to bring about a Singapore we can be proud of.
Bye Bye Plastic Bags Singapore
Cicada Tree Eco-Place
CRL Response Team
Eco Youth Collective
Fossil Free Yale-NUS
Fridays For Future SG
Green Is The New Black
Green New Deal SG
i’dECO: Yale-NUS Sustainability Movement
NUS Students Against Violation of the Earth
NUS Students Taking Action for NUS to Divest
NUS Vision of Equality for a Greener Earth
People’s Movement to Stop Haze
SIT Action for Environment Conservation
SG Climate Rally
Speak for Climate
Full statement and template to MP at www.tinyurl.com/gmwsolidarity