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Your two page weekend spread on the lives of migrant workers for International Migrants’ Day is an important reminder of the enormous contributions which they make to our society and economy. While we are inspired by their stories of endurance and hardship, it is also a sober reminder that global inequalities and systemic discrimination are factors which are fuelling labour migration among countries of the global south. As a host nation which benefits from their contributions, we should do more to uphold their rights and invest in their education and welfare.
This year’s nominee for the Best Foreign Domestic Worker is a deserving one, given the enormous sacrifices she has made in order to care for the Singaporean family whom she had lived with for over twenty years. But when awards for hardworking and dedicated domestic workers are given out without a similar commitment to ensure that they have equal rights and benefits with other workers, it perpetuates the notion that women in care work are selfless and maternal, who expect little in return for their labour, except for the love and affection of the families they are working for.
It is also not uncommon to hear stories of estranged relationships and broken families as a result of frequent absences caused by long years spent working abroad, a problem which social workers and activists in countries of origin have to grapple with. Singapore can certainly do more to take care of the welfare of these families.
Your other profile, Mr Mao’s experience about being cheated by his agent when he first arrived is also typical among many migrant workers who come with dreams of a good job but end up in situations where they are abused and exploited. While residents of the estate where he works commend him for his diligence, and are impressed at him for not complaining about hardship, we need to ask ourselves if working more than 12 hours every day–a norm for many low wage migrant workers here– is acceptable.
Given the large presence of migrants in our midst and our resources, Singapore should lead the region in upholding their rights. Achievement awards and stories of commendation show huge appreciation for those who have built Singapore to live in, but it must not be forgotten that employment protections, equal rights and fostering a culture which does not discriminate against them are just as important.