Not only was Singapore among the 63 voters which abstained from voting on the convention, Singapore was also one of only nine governments that abstained from the voting process of the new convention.
Singapore - Think Centre (TC), one of the most established political NGOs in the city-state, expressed its disappointment with the new Singapore government abstaining from voting to adopt the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
The new ILO convention was approved last week in Geneva to grant domestic workers greater protection from exploitation. Not only was Singapore among the 63 voters which abstained from voting on the convention, Singapore was also one of only nine governments that abstained from the voting process of the new convention. In all, 125 governments voted in favour to protect more then 100 million workers worldwide, most of them have often been excluded from basic labour protections as a day off. Swaziland was the only government that did not vote in favour of the convention.
The nine governments that abstain include 3 ASEAN Member States - Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. This is highly disappointing as ASEAN is working towards the effective implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. Why did the 3 ASEAN's more developed countries, in need of migrant domestic workers, abstain from agreeing to the legally binding ILO convention? Why did the 3 countries not express support with other ASEAN Member States?
The Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has said it would sign the treaty only when it was sure it could implement it here, and that it would continue to review the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers.
Singapore being home to more than 200,000 migrant domestic workers should be making the protection of their rights a priority. Priding itself on its economic success model and first-world nation status, Singapore's abstention is reminiscent of the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) high-handed approach toward human rights. The Ministry's rationale of only ratifying U.N conventions and treaties upon its certainty of implementing all the terms is bureaucratically safe but diplomatically embarrassing. Instead TC supports the human rights-based call by Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Halimah Yacob, for legislation that makes employers give their domestic helpers a rest day every week, to help to minimise some issues such as stress and overwork that domestic workers are facing now.
TC also welcomes the Singapore government to consider signing the UN treaty to prevent human trafficking as soon as possible. The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons has already been signed or ratified by more then 150 countries.
As regional convenor for the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers since 2006, TC has been championing and collaborating extensively with national NGOs, regional NGOs, and international agencies, on improving the working conditions for migrant workers. As such, TC appeals to the new PAP government to include as part of its purported transformation and renewed citizenry engagement process, to review its position on the ILO convention and adopt a human rights-based approach towards improving the work conditions for the 200,000 and growing number of migrant domestic workers in Singapore.
In April 2009, TC together with local groups working on migrant workers issues, based on the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the rights of migrant workers had delivered recommendations to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) which include the following:
17. Currently, all migrant domestic workers and non-domestic workers are covered under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and must fulfill various Work Permit conditions. We recommend the Singapore Government should extend the coverage of the Employment Act to include migrant domestic workers as "workers" for the purposes of the law so that they can enjoy all the provisions of that law, especially the requirement for one day of leave every week, public holidays, annual leave, and medical leave. Once this is done, a comprehensive education effort should also be undertaken through public relations such as radio, TV, and newspapers to ensure that employers understand and respect migrant domestic workers rights under the Act. Migrant domestic workers should also be covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act.
29. In accordance with the ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking In Persons Particularly Women and Children, adopted by the leaders of the ASEAN Member Governments in Vientiane in 2004, Singapore should systematically screen undocumented migrant workers who are detained by the authorities to ascertain whether they are victims of human trafficking. In doing so, Singapore should use the international definition of human trafficking contained in the Protocol To Prevent, Suppress And Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women And Children, Supplementing The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (the Palermo Protocol). Those migrants who are found to be victims of human trafficking should not be caned or jailed, but should be provided with support to services in line with international standards of protection for such victims.
Sources and Relevant Links:
TFAMW 16-17 April 2009 Singapore National Statement by Civil Society Groups The Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TFAMW)organized the National consultation on the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the rights of migrant workers
Bloomberg Singapore May Sign Trafficking Treaty, Straits Times Reports11 June 2011