TC 2013 Labour Day Message: A Fair Deal for All Workers and their Families

Posted by Think Centre under Breaking News on 30 April 2013

Think Centre calls for the legislation of anti-discrimination laws to better protect all workers, women and migrant workers, implement minimum wage to help bridge the gap between the rich and poor.

TC 2013 Labour Day Message: A Fair Deal for All Workers and their Families

Think Centre continues to highlight discrimination, rising inequality, and failure of the government to provide better protection and improve the lives of workers. Think Centre calls for the legislation of anti-discrimination laws to better protect all workers, women and migrant workers, implement minimum wage to help bridge the gap between the rich and poor. The government needs to harmonize the Labour Law with International Labour Standards to meet the challenges of providing a fair deal to all workers and their families as Singapore is plugged into the the 21st century global economy.

A Singapore Labour Law that we can all be proud of

As we commemorate Labour Day 2013, Think Centre (TC) shares our aspiration to achieve greater social justice, prosperity and happiness. These aspirations have been threatened by rising inequality in society, high cost of living, and the pain of discrimination. The abuses suffered by many workers and the failure of the government to provide adequate measures of protection and appropriate remedies has led to heightened levels of unhappiness and tensions among citizens, residents and migrants.

Think Centre urges the government, unions and employers to come to an agreement to institute an anti-discrimination framework, reduce inequality, and reduce the number of those earning less then S$1200 per month by introducing a minimum level of decent living wage, and restructure the economy for a more sustainable and holistic growth.

Discrimination against local and migrant workers

Think Centre notes that various forms of discrimination still persists at the workplace today. We are concerned that discrimination on the basis of nationality is being practiced even by large established companies. The SMRT Chinese bus drivers' strike in November 2012 is a classic case in point - with the state continuing to support the state-linked SMRT, despite the company's unfair and discriminatory wage and contract practices for the drivers, and indifference when dealing with the grievances of the bus workers. Indeed, such stories are common among the migrant workers in the services and construction industries. They suffer from low wages, contract substitution, poor working and living conditions as well as the looming threat of being forcibly deported by "security" companies engaged by their employers.

Both local and migrant workers face discrimination in terms of gender, where pregnant women continue to be treated unfairly by employers who consider them as dispensable and undesirable in the workplace. We are also disappointed that up to today sexual harassment continues to be under-addressed seriously. However Think Centre acknowledges that the government's decision to increase maternity and paternity leave to parents is a step in the right direction, and we urge them to acknowledge and correct other pertinent issues as had been mentioned.

No minimum wage, unfair working conditions, and unhappy workers

After nearly 50 years of economic development, both local and migrant workers continue to work one of the world's longest working hours in order to secure their jobs and increase their monthly pay. The unequal treatment of migrant workers results in being paid lower then local workers, with no CPF contribution by the employer and migrants worker, thus the local workers wages are also depressed and remains stagnant while the companies continues to increase their profits.

The government continues to reject calls for a minimum wage and most less skilled locals earn very low wages which is inadequate to provide decent living conditions for their families, and as result their family (children and aged members) suffer. With high income inequality, no matter how hard the lower skilled workers work, they are unable to break out of the low-wage brackets leading to the "poverty trap", and as a result of inadequate resources, their children are not able to perform better in education.

Think Centre believes that the minimum wage mechanism needs to be instituted without delay in order to protect workers and help them to enjoy a decent standard of living. This will in turn help to lower the income inequality gap and strengthen workers' sense of dignity and happiness. Alongside the key issue of a minimum wage, more can be done to ensure job security and improved working conditions for local and migrant workers.

We call on the government, trade unions and employers to take proactive steps in providing a fair deal, more decent jobs, more secure jobs, and share their gains with all workers without discrimination. We call on the government to lead in removing outdated labour laws that prevents freedom of association, the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech, to promote and provide better protection for all workers. We believe that these steps will lead to more equitable and just working practices that can be enjoyed by the workers and their families.

Conclusion and recommendations

All workers - both local and migrant workers - continue to face tough challenges that prevent them from enjoying a dignified working and living conditions that everyone deserves.

Think Centre continues to work to end discrimination and develop a framework for a fair deal, social justice and equality for all workers. We reiterate that all workers have the right to fair and decent working and living conditions, regular payment of wages, and adequate access to the legal and judicial system for victims of discrimination, abuse, exploitation and violence.

To protect adequately the workers with decent working and living conditions, we urge the government to harmonize the Labour Laws with International Labour Standards as reflected in the ILO Declaration on the fundamental principles and rights at work to provide a fair deal for all workers in the global economy by carrying out the following steps:

1. Amend the Employment Act in accordance with the ILO decent work framework. Specifically to implement a 40-hour work week and a minimum wage for all the workers. Singapore should work towards providing a decent living wage for all workers and their families;

2. Institute anti-discrimination laws to protect against discrimination of older workers, gender, race and religion, disabilities and foreign domestic workers;

3. Change the policies to ensure even people who are self-employed, work part-time or on contract are not left out in the cold as they reach retirement;

4. Respect the 1998 ILO Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work, especially on the rights to association, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation;

5. Provide greater support for retrenched and unemployed workers through a national insurance scheme, as well as to provide for a reasonable living standard with access to housing, health-care, re-training and other essentials to maintain life;

6. Free up more space and processes for workers to express their views, concerns, report abuses, discrimination and exploitation without fear. This is necessary as such laws, policies and practices restricting their expressions and associations must be removed to ensure that complaints are looked into and results in just remedies;

7. Amend failed labour legislation and outdated, unjust, unfair policies and practices such as:

7.1 Piling up work with short deadlines so companies need not pay double for work on rest days;

7.2 Deducting salaries of factory, construction and other menial workers for food and housing which the employer should rightly provide or subsidize;

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

7.4 Forcing foreign workers refusing to sign their terms of contract to pay their own return tickets home and the company liquidated damages ;

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

Lastly, Think Centre would like to wish all local and migrant workers and their families a happy Labour Day. Let us all commemorate the day in solidarity with millions of workers around the world. No matter where we live, whatever we do, this is an important day to celebrate the achievements of the workers struggle for the 8-hours work-day in the 1880's, a day to reflect on the lessons and a reminder to continue our solidarity to improve our livelihood.

Together in Solidarity With All Workers!

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