SINGAPORE: The Migrant Workers’ Centre has urged the government to be more flexible in allowing foreign workers to change employers.
The centre’s Chairman Yeo Guat Kwang told Channel NewsAsia that he is working with the Manpower Ministry to try and amend the policy.
The Migrant Workers’ Centre said last year it received about 1,500 complaints from foreign workers, mostly for salary arrears cases.
Workers helping the Manpower Ministry with investigations are given a special pass to stay in Singapore under the Temporary Job Scheme.
Under the scheme, workers serving as prosecution witnesses may be allowed to find temporary employment while their cases are being investigated.
Migrant workers groups want the Temporary Job Scheme to be expanded to allow workers to remain in Singapore beyond the completion of their cases.
Mr Yeo said workers who are waiting for their workplace injury compensation should also be allowed to stay.
This, he said, could lead the way for a new transitional employment system for foreign workers.
Mr Yeo said: "If you say the only way for the workers is to go back, for some cases, it’s not fair because they’ve only been here for a few months. I think we should amend this to make it easier for workers who unfortunately fall victim to one of these disputes, will be able to find employment with another employer.
"To me, I think it’s good for the employer to employ these workers who are already here, rather than to go to the source country, and do a fresh recruitment, and these are workers who have already been here, we know how good their skills are."
Mr Yeo explained that making the Change of Employers policy more flexible is also in line with the MWC’s call to improve the quality of foreign workers.
"At the end of the day, for us to be able to enable them to change employer and get re—employed, definitely this is a person that must have the right skill to work here," said Mr Yeo.
In addition, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics believes the restrictions of the Change of Employer policy do not favour these workers.
The organisation’s president Bridget Tan explained: "This is called the sponsorship system. A work permit holder is tied to the employer. The work permit holder if once he or she leaves the employer unless with the approval of the employer this work permit holder will have to go home, repatriated.
"They find it difficult to enforce their rights under work permit conditions because they are so afraid and often threatened. Going home for many migrant workers whether domestic workers or foreign workers is not a choice for them because most of them are in debt to agents back home, money lenders back home.
"And going back with nothing, with no hope and promise of another job and the chance to change employers, sometimes they allow themselves to be exploited."
Ms Tan added workers are not allowed to change the industry they work in.
She said: "For example, if you come in as a construction worker, you can only find a job as a construction worker even though you have qualification that can allow you to work for example, as a waiter but you cannot because you come in as a construction worker, you have to be a construction worker. There are restrictions."
President of the Association of Employment Agencies, K Jayaprema said employers have concerns with a more flexible policy.
Mr Jayaprema said: "When such transfers kick in, if the employees are not very responsible, the employer might be stranded without a workforce because employees do have a tendency to be working in one company, train themselves up there and when there’s opportunities in another company with a little bit of better salary, they move."
Employers have to send their foreign workers back within seven days of the cancellation of their work permits or they could lose the S$5,000 security bond with the Manpower Ministry.
Advocacy groups for migrant workers argue a more flexible change of employer policy would create greater mobility for workers.
With this mobility, migrant workers will no longer be at the mercy of employers.
There will be more incentive for employers to retain these workers, and treat them fairly.
MPs are expected to raise questions on how the government can address the grievances of foreign workers at the next sitting of Parliament.
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