A recent study in Australia on temporary migrants, foreign students and holidaymakers have uncovered some shocking results. These foreigners are exploited by employers who pay them well below the minimum wage. Worse, these people felt underpayment was the norm. The research, done by the University of Technology Sydney and University of New South Wales, covering 4,322 migrants, revealed a horrible underbelly of a First World country that treats its guest workers as slaves. The study was an attempt to see if the data matched reports of massive wage thefts.
What is the situation in Singapore, a country with a high migrant population and where reports of such abuse are cropping up now and then? The time has come for think tanks and research institutions here to fix the data gap. Anecdotal evidence suggests that exploitation of this kind is not uncommon. I have heard stories of unscrupulous bosses paying much lower salaries than the declared wages to their employees. The service industry is a hotbed of such exploitation. One common method used is when the employer puts in the declared salary into the employees’ bank account but then takes back a sum from the employee. A friend said: “The boss will walk the employee to the ATM and get the money back. The employee dares not report the matter because of fear of losing his job. For many of these workers, having a job is vital to their families’ survival. These bosses are really unscrupulous.”
I suspect that with 30 percent of the workforce here being made up of foreigners and PRs, this kind of exploitation is rampant. Those who bear the brunt of this abuse must be the one million work permit holders as they need whatever money they can get to pay off recruitment agencies and settle loans back home. It is time for NGOs involved in these migrant workers’ plight to not leave it to government agencies to expose the wage thieves. These groups have put a lot to pressure on the government by using social media to bring the abuses of foreign workers to the national consciousness. A 2015 survey of 605 male migrant workers, by the Singapore Management University, found that 62 percent of them had not been paid outstanding injury or salary claims with the Ministry of Manpower.
But wage theft, or underpayment of promised salaries, doesn’t seem to have received much attention here. Hopefully, the Australian expose will trigger a similar study here to bring to light a malaise that, if left unchecked, will sully the image of a first world society like Singapore.