If you’ve been keeping up with my blog recently you’ll have read that Singapore can be a pretty rough place for a foreigner. There’s plenty of racism and discrimination from locals. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is also common in the work place.
In Singapore business, appearance is everything. Companies want to present the best image they can, regardless of the internal cost and that’s usually going to be at someone’s expense, because they want a certain level of service to be rendered but at the same time they don’t want to put forward the capital or manpower required to adequately meet their goals. Someone winds up suffering, and those someones are typically foreign workers.
You see, being in Singapore on a work permit is a rather unique situation. People usually apply for jobs in Singapore through recruitment agencies in their home countries. If they’re approved they receive a card that designates them as being about to legally enter Singapore without needing their passport stamped and remain for the duration of their work contract. Now, people that do this sort of thing are either looking to improve their lives, or they have financial obligations at home, like a family to support. Either way, they have to maintain their job. If a person loses their job they’re only given so many days to find a new one before they have to leave Singapore, and sometimes that time-frame is only 2 weeks. You see what I’m saying? There’s a lot of pressure to make sure you stay in your employer’s good graces, because you’re almost guaranteed to have to leave the country if you leave your job. Moving from one country to another can be a big deal. It can be even more stressful when your income is cut off and you have obligations to meet.
In other words, there’s really no wriggle-room. You work, or you get put out and you have to leave the country.
Being the pricks they are, people like to take advantage of that here. They create unrealistic expectations in their KPIs. They ask employees to stay longer hours, often unpaid, to do more work, even if that employee has exceeded the target set for the day. This is done so that the company can get around hiring more people to manage the workload more effectively, but is an abuse to the worker. In the case of maids, I’m sure there are far worse abuses that happen despite the strict rules regulating maids in Singapore.
Regardless, there’s no much of a recourse for these foreign workers. If they decline the request to work the longer hours too many times, they’ll simply be let go and they’ll have to pack up the life they’ve made in Singapore and return to their country, often with not much to show for their efforts and no immediate prospects for work. If they file a complaint with the company? Same result. File a complaint with MoM? Well, something might happen in the future but the company would find a reason to fire that person. Change their job? Well, it’s not always that easy. Most foreigners come to Singapore on a contract, so they can’t change jobs. If they can, it could be hard to find one, and if they do, and there’s even the slightest delay in the paperwork, they could have to pack up and leave the country and then come back once the new contract is approved.
You see what I’m getting at here? The labor laws in Singapore regarding foreigners are either not strict enough or they’re not being properly enforced to protect the interests of the foreign workers that are being hired. These people are employees, not slightly paid slave labor.