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SINGAPORE: Foreign Workers In Singapore

In Singapore, the number of foreign workers is now about 290,000. The domestic workers come from the following countries: Philippines -35,000, Sri Lanka - 10,000 and Indonesia - 4,000. In the construction industry Out of 80,000 about 53,000 are foreign workers, some 30,000 of whom are from Thailand. In the Shipbuilding and repair industry, one-third of the 6,000 workers are foreign workers. Malaysian workers make up 60% of the foreign workers and they are mostly employed in the manufacturing sector.

Thai Workers

In 1990, 28 workers died from a mysterious illness. From 1982 to 1990, a total of 227 Thai workers died in Singapore. There are about 30,000 Thais working mainly in the construction industry.

Illegal Immigrants

A foreigner who overstays for more than 90 days or enters Singapore illegally will receive the punishment of at least three strokes of the cane and three months' jail. Caning does not apply to women or those below 17 or above 50 years old.

Employers who hire more than five illegal workers and who are proven to have had actual knowledge that these workers are illegal immigrants or overstayers will face the mandatory three strokes of the cane, a compulsory six-month jail sentence and a fine of up to S,000.

It is also an offence for an owner, tenant or occupier of any premises to knowingly allow their premises to be used for the employment of immigration offenders.


Since 1973, a work permit holder has to obtain the approval of the Com missioner for Employment if he/she wishes to marry a Singapore citizen. Those who marry without approval will have their work permit cancelled and they will be permanently banned from Singapore.

Permission to marry will depend on the income and educational qualification of the work permit holder.

There are no restrictions on employment pass holders from marrying Singaporeans. They can also bring their dependants to Singapore. An employment pass is issued to those earning S00 or more a month. Professionals such as engineers and managers are those likely to meet the criteria for employment passes. Foreigners who are graduates of recognised universities, though they earn less than S00, can apply for an employment pass.

Other Aspects

Foreign workers are protected by the Employment Act, except domestic workers who are not covered by it. The right to a Workmen's Compensation is given to both work permit holders and non-work permit holders. Work permit holders can join a trade union but cannot hold office. There is no trade union for domestic workers.

Foreign Domestic Workers

There are about 50,000 domestic workers in Singapore. They make up about one-quarter of all the foreign workers. Of this number, 75% are Filippinos.

The Philippines Embassy has received 805 complaints of abuse like molest, physical and verbal abuse between January and October 1990. Police statistics from January to June 1990 showed 45 cases of causing hurt and 17 cases of outrage of modesty for Filippinas.

The Sri Lankan High Commission has also received about 300 complaints a year while the Indonesian Embassy has received 10 complaints a month. Domestic workers' agencies receive complaints from about 1% of the domestic workers concerning ill-treatment.

Foreign (and local) domestic workers are not protected by the Employment Act. They face the following reality:

1. The employer may terminate the contract at any time without giving any notice to the domestic worker;

2. The domestic worker does not have the right to a regular pay day;

3. They are not entitled to any rest days, public holidays, annual leave or sick leave;

4. There is no limit to the maximum number of hours the domestic worker may be made to work;

5. The domestic worker is not permitted to make use of the relatively inexpensive and simplified proceedings prescribed under the Employment Act for making their salary claim.

The work permit of the domestic worker can be cancelled by the employer at any time without any reasons given. The Work Permit Office can also cancel the work permit of the domestic worker if the employer does not pay the foreign workers' levy.

One of the conditions for the granting of a work permit is that the employer has to deposit S00 with the Work Permit Office and execute a security bond in favour of the controller of Immigration, Singapore. This bond will be forfeited if any of the conditions of the bond is violated. These conditions are:

1. The foreign domestic worker should not get married to ~ Singapore citizen or permanent resident during her stay in Singapore.

2. The foreign domestic worker should not become pregnant during her stay in Singapore.

3. The foreign domestic worker should not engage in any form of employment, paid or unpaid, or in any business, profession or occupation other than that of a domestic worker in the employer's employ.

4. The foreign domestic worker should not engage in any activity detrimental to the security and well-being of Singapore.

5. The foreign domestic worker should not engage in, or be concerned in any way with, any activity in contravention of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1973.

6. Where the foreign domestic worker's work permit or visit pass is cancelled by the relevant authorities, she should not remain in Singapore thereafter unless she is otherwise entitled or authorised to do so.

7. The employer would repatriate the foreign domestic worker in the event of any breach of the conditions.

If any of these conditions is breached, and the employer docs not repatriate the domestic worker, the employer's security deposit will be forfeited.

Posted on 2001-08-28
Asian Human Rights Commission

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