$1.50 an hour is just too little for anyone

$1.50 an hour is just too little for anyone
The Straits Times

For a year, Bangladeshi construction worker Hossain Iqbel worked seven days a week fitting pipes underground on Jurong Island.

His basic wages - at $1.50 an hour or around $280 a month - were a third of the $800 he had been promised when he left home.

He did not complain at first, despite having proof of his low wages - unlike many other employers of foreign workers, his issued payslips.

He held back because he had borrowed heavily to pay for recruitment fees and did not want to be repatriated.

Eventually, he lodged a complaint days before his contract was due to end, fearing he might be sent home without his dues being settled.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin told Parliament last month that migrant workers were generally treated well by employers, and a 2011 survey of 3,000 work permit holders showed that nine in 10 were satisfied.

Complaints to the ministry about work-related abuses are also low. It helped 7,000 foreign workers last year - less than 1 per cent of the 700,000 work permit holders here.

But these numbers may not reflect the true picture on the ground.

While covering foreign worker issues, I have been told time and again by workers and their advocates that despite grave abuses, many workers will not complain so long as the power balance between employer and employee remains skewed in the employer's favour. Some policies need tweaking to level the playing field.

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