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Some 50 unemployed Bangladeshi migrant workers gathered in front of Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower on Monday, urging the government to give them work and help retrieve overdue pay from previous employers.
The shipyard workers said they were promised new jobs by ministry officials when they were moved out of their employers’ dormitories after their firms went bankrupt and could not pay them.
“No job, no money, only eating and sleeping,” said Tutul Abdul Manan, a 31-year-old who said he gave up his temporary job with the government in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka and paid some S$9,000 ($5,964) for a brokerage fee to work in Singapore. Singapore’s construction, shipyard 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.
Human rights groups say many of the world’s estimated 100 million migrant workers are in dire predicaments as economic woes in the Gulf, Singapore and Taiwan lead to mass layoffs of labourers from across Asia.
Protests in tightly-controlled Singapore were only made legal last year in a designated zone, “Speakers’ Corner”, modelled after the one in London’s Hyde Park. Elsewhere public gatherings of five or more people are illegal without a police permit.
The Bangladeshi migrants were allowed to meet officials after an hour of waiting.
“We are trying to help them negotiate with their employer discreetly. But they have become more and more savvy by inviting the media here,” one government official said at the gathering.
Singapore defends the need for tough protest laws, citing concerns over public safety and order. But several international human right groups such as Amnesty International have said Singapore uses these laws to stifle dissent.