Singapore: Program Launched to Ease Migrant Employee Adjustment

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By Lien Hoang

The government is launching a program to help foreign workers adjust to life and employment in Singapore and to ease workforce tensions that have emerged in recent years.

The Settling-in Program will be a one-day workshop in which foreign arrivals learn about laws and “local practices” so they can “adapt to living and working here,” Singapore's Ministry of Manpower said in a fact sheet. Employers must foot the bill for the orientation sessions, which will begin in the middle of 2018 and be conducted in the language of the incoming workers, many of whom hail from South Asia.

According to the ministry, “this mandatory program will educate newly arrived foreign workers on employment regulations, Singapore laws, and social norms, as well as avenues of help.”

‘Workers Need to Know Their Rights'

“Workers need to know their rights, and advice on how to raise problems would be helpful,” John Gee, research committee chair of advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too, told Bloomberg Law. “In the end, though, this needs to be underpinned by reassurance that a worker who expresses dissatisfaction with his employment conditions and has problems with his employer will have a genuine chance to change his job without returning to his own country and without being saddled by further debts.”

Cleaners, caregivers, and other household employees from abroad already attend the orientation workshop, which beginning this year will be required of all work permit holders except Malaysians. The manpower ministry will first focus on the construction sector, then move on to the marine, process, manufacturing, and service sectors.

The ministry did not announce workshop fees or fines for noncompliance but said it will release more details later.

Thin Margins

The cost of the training may be a burden for employers, which in turn could endanger immigrant employment, according to economist Miguel Chanco, Asia specialist at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“These pass holders are most often employed in sectors where margins are already thin and where labor turnover is normally high, such as the food service industry,” Chanco told Bloomberg Law. “With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how flexible the government will be in phasing this in, how strictly it will be enforced, and what the penalties are for noncompliance.”

‘More Positive Attitude'

Singapore conducted a pilot orientation in 2016 with nearly 2,000 workers and reported increased awareness of employment law and regulation afterward. Only 35 percent of workers knew the rules about employers holding their passports before the course, for example, compared with 74 percent after.

“Employers also shared that they saw improvement in their [foreign workers’] behavior and [that they] had a more positive attitude at work,” the manpower ministry said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lien Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For More Information

The Singaporean Ministry of Manpower's announcement of the Settling-in-Program can be found here.

For more information on Singaporean HR law and regulation, see the Singapore primer.

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