Posted by Sinapan Samydorai under Editorial on 30 April 2003

The Singapore employment situation is in dire straits. Negative economic indicators, job insecurity and unemployment are serious probems. Workers' wages are going down and purchasing power is lower even as they work longer hours to keep their job.


"Give workers and their families back their right to a decent living"

The Singapore employment situation is in dire straits. Negative economic indicators, job insecurity and unemployment are serious probems. Workers' wages are going down and purchasing power is lower even as they work longer hours to keep their job. It is worse for a woman as she is paid lower then the man on the same job simply as they are sexually discriminated. Migrant women domestic workers are worse off as they are seen as slaves and our labourlaws hardly protect them from abuses on all fronts!

Like Singaporean workers, migrant workers must be accorded their rights to fair and decent wages, annual leave, off on public holidays, social security, and recognition of their human dignity.

Moreover, the working conditions here are not family-friendly. Job insecurity and long hours of work deprives the family of quality time and recuperative rest. As result, we have more dysfunctional families, inter-spousal disputes, children with deviant behavioral problems and abuse of domestic workers' etc as outlets for stress.

Is it a failure on the part of the jobless citizen to make ends meet? Is it a failure of the system to create jobs and provide access for the means to decent - wage and living standard? If it is a failure of the system, then should this government not find a humane way to assist its citizens? The economic miracle has burst and the tyre has gone flat. Unemployment is expected to rise above 5 per cent. Working hard or long hours for low pay or no pay will not save the job anymore. Everyone has to live in fear of being jobless any moment and they are the mercy of the employer.

Unfortunately, the budget deficit projected for the coming year is only 1.2 billion or 1.7 % of the GDP. Add to this the SARS relief package of $230 million or 0.2 % of the GDP. How much these can stimulate growth or enhance consumer confidence? Hardly. If this government is to address the economic downturn, it may have to release a gross budget deficit of 5% of the GDP.

In light of the economic doldrums and health threats, Think Centre calls on fellow Singaporeans to show their compassion, solidarity and support for one another regardless of race, language or religion. Civil society and Singaporeans will emerge as better individuals because we will truly understand, care and share in solidarity through this crisis.

May Day is an occasion to remind ourselves that it is the workers who create wealth and that this wealth belongs to all of us. May Day is a international event bringing together workers in solidarity Unfortuately, Labour Day is likely to remain for many only a holiday with little or no thought given to its roots. There is no public education as to the origin of May Day - the celebration of the working class's successful struggle for eight-hour man-day in 1880's.

International solidarity is necessary to maintain the rights workers have achieved. International Solidarity is necessary to gain more fundamental rights such as a 40 hour work-week, living wage and decent work. Let's not forget the millions who are killed due to unsafe working conditions yearly in the world. No matter where we live, what we do, whatever our colour and creed, we can all celebrate international solidarity on May first. Let us stand together in solidarity to show that we will overcome someday unemployment and SARS!

On this note, Think Centre makes the following 6 recommendations to the Singapore government, employers, trade unions and all workers:

1. To uphold the principles of treating each other with respect and dignity, and to contribute constructively to the communities in need, especially the new poor, unemployed and SARS victim and their families.

2. To stop all forms of discrimination towards all workers especially, migrant domestic workers, health care workers, women workers, and migrant workers who are fearlessly working alongside Singaporean workers.

3. The governemnt to do more to provide economic, pyschological and socio-cultural reliefs to victims and families of the unemployed. SARS victims and their families shoud be paid a reasonable amount of compensation. Residents who are unable to pay their utility bills for water and electricity should be assisted and not punished - water and electricity are basic means for a decent living. All residents must have access to the basic needs of decent living.

4. To adopt pro-needy policies to secure decent work in conditions of freedom, security and human dignity. The government should provide more support for the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises and their coverage by a social security system, as well as continue to focus on education, skill training and health-care to improve the ability of workers to be employable.

5. To effect more pro-employment and pro-needy policies so that we can overcome the turbulent times as a nation and provide decent work and decent living standards to all Singaporeans.

6. To update deficient labour legislation by removing or amending outdated policies such as:

6.1. A new 40-hour work week and a minimum wage policy;

6.2. Stronger labour law to protect against discrimination of older workers, gender, race and religion, physical disabilities and foreign domestic workers;

6.3. Greater support for retrenched and unemployed workers through a national insurance scheme, as well as to provide a reasonable living with access to housing, healthcare, re-training and other essentials for a new life;

6.4 Piling up overtime work as requested by employees so companies need not pay double for work on rest days;

6.5 Deducting salaries of overtime work for food and housing for emplyees;

6.6 Giving employees working 11 hours (shift work) daily for 30 days only 1 rest day per month for the first year in the service industry;

6.7 Forcing foreign workers refusing to sign their terms of contract to pay their own return tickets home and the company liquidated damages of around S$1,000;

6.8 The 1973-policy which requires prior permission for work permit holders to marry locals. Instead those with relevant skills and who have worked in Singapore for 4 years should be free to marry locals;

6.9 Excessive limitations on the right to organise labour congregations eg Registrar of Trade Unions has powers to refuse or cancel registration, which could be used to obstruct the establishment of a trade union or impose a single union structure.

Think Centre wishes all Singaporean and foreign workers to celebrate May First in solidarity with millions of workers around the world. Stand up for your labour rights and work together for your rights. Stand up together with all workers in global solidarity. Resist the forces which try to divide workers!

30 April 2003

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