A group of around 100 Bangladeshi migrant workers gathered outside Singapore’s labour ministry on Friday, urging the government to give them work and retrieve overdue pay after they were laid off by shipping firms.
Protests are rare in Singapore, where public speeches and demonstrations are banned unless they are approved by the government, or take place at a designated place called Speaker’s Corner.
A representative for the Bangladeshi workers said they were promised a monthly salary of at least S$400 and a work permit of 2 years. But with no work or pay for 4 months, they felt they were in danger of being deported.
“We don’t want to go back to Bangladesh. We take loan, we cannot pay, we die,” said Rahman, who gave up his farming job in Bangladesh and took a loan of S$7000 from money lenders back home to pay an agent fee to work in Singapore.
Fifty workers gathered at the ministry earlier this month.
Local advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too said such gatherings would become more common in Singapore as workers were not being fed enough and were just sitting in dormitories, amid Singapore’s worst ever recession.
“The mood is that we are seeing a lot of people coming forward — hundreds — they don’t have work,” said the group’s Shelley Thio. “We are going to see a lot more of it — they are being shortchanged.”
Singapore’s shipyard, construction and manufacturing industries were once red hot, hiring almost 800,000 migrants in 2007. But as the economy slid into recession last year, demand for labour dived and major projects were cancelled or delayed.
“If developers can’t get money to pay construction companies, subcontractors down the line will get affected too,” said Chew Chin Hui, who heads a local building firm.
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224 Chinese foreign workers protested outside Ministry of Manpower against unpaid salary (30 Dec 08)