Today is Labour Day. MARUAH would like to wish all Singaporean and foreign workers a happy Labour Day!
We, as a human rights advocacy group, would like to appreciate the work put in, on a daily basis, by all in Singapore. A worker needs to be respected not just on May 1st but everyday as there can be no progress without the worker.
However MARUAH is deeply concerned about two issues this Labour Day and seek remedial action for two communities that need our protection most.
The first issue is that of protection of the rights of our lower end wage earners.
Today earning SGD$1,500 per month is just not enough. According to an article “Mindset Change Needed to Help Low-wage Workers” (Straits Times, Feb 7, 2012) government figures show that there were 236,300 Singaporeans and residents who earned a gross income of less than $1,000 per month as of June last year, up from 218,700 a decade earlier[i] (The figure excludes incomes of full-time national servicemen). If one were to take household, not personal income figures, the picture gets more disturbing as 2010 figures show that there were already more than 100,000 households which had only an average monthly income from work of $1,400.
While the pool of people earning less than $1,500 is getting larger, latest available expenditure figures, covering 2007/2008, show that Singaporean households in the bottom fifth of the income scale, actually need around $1,700 a month to cover basic costs of living like food and utilities. But they were earning an average of only $1,274 per month at that time.
There is a disconnect. For the worker and his/her family it has dire consequences on the ground as they simply cannot make ends meet and care for their family well. This is an area of grave concern and the situation will get worse if we are going to look at long term social security for this community.
In addition wages too have slid downwards for our lower-end workers. In the same ST article; in 2000, the median gross wage for cleaners and labourers was $1,277. Ten years later, in 2010, the wages have fallen to $960 instead. For cleaners of industrial buildings, the median gross wage is even lower, at around $600 in 2010.
The group that needs our protection most seems to be facing a tougher time now than ever before.
There have been recent calls made by the experts in Singapore asking for minimum wages to be instituted for the lower-end worker to protect them against exploitation. MARUAH too joins this call and urges the government to look into this as a policy at least for the lower end workers as a best practice at State-level in observing the right of all workers to fair wages. This in fact is part of Singapore’s commitment to the welfare and rights of workers as also stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 23 of the UDHR states:-
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
The second issue that MARUAH highlights here is the protection for the more than 200,000 foreign domestic workers who work in our homes.
We urge the government to take the step and ban the cleaning of windows (outside frames) in high-rise homes for all foreign domestic workers. Employers as in any workplace have a duty to protect the worker against harm and even self-harm (when workers can be overly enthusiastic).
MARUAH says that it does not do good for our own reputation as a country when a country of origin imposes rules on its workers here to protect them from a safety perspective. We are a country that takes pride in being part of an international community on ensuring that there is safety at worksites. The home is a worksite in these cases and MARUAH urges the government to put a stop to these unnecessary deaths – which are already one too many – and protect foreign domestic workers .
This Labour day MARUAH would like to support the government in its effort to protect workers. But we also ask that the government consider what we see as two crucial areas that need immediate attention to ensure that all workers live in dignity and have protection in Singapore.
We wish all Singaporean and all foreigners who work here an enjoyable May Day.
From all of us @ MARUAH