TL;DR – Happy workers, Happy life.
More than 10,000 migrant workers gathered at the newest and largest purpose-built migrant workers’ dormitory in Singapore – the Sungei Tengah Lodge for this year’s May Day Migrant Workers Celebration.
The Labour Movement, along with the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), wrapped up its month-long May Day celebrations today with an event to thank migrant workers for their contributions towards our nation’s growth and development.
Migrant workers were treated to an afternoon of fun with carnival games and stage performances. Various government agencies also came together to share different messages and do’s and don’ts while working and living in Singapore.
I was there at the event and it was an eye-opening experience.
Because the Internet can be a cold and merciless place, there are too many stories out there about migrant workers… often more negative than positive. But thankfully, there are also many happy stories involving our foreign friends and I believe we should never allow ourselves to judge migrant workers as a whole because of a single incident.
I spoke to a few of them at the celebrations.
Shalan, 45, Landscape Technician
This is Shalan. I met him on my way to the washroom. He was alone and he gave me a friendly smile, we exchanged eye contact, and the next thing you know we were chatting like old friends. He has been in Singapore for 15 years as a landscaper with the same organisation. He told me that he loves Singapore because Singapore is very safe. He can be out at night with money in his pocket without worrying that something can happen to him. Back at home, he has a 23-year-old son who is an engineer and a 19-year-old daughter who is studying to be a doctor. I was actually very touched by his perseverance and his love for his family. He doesn’t do much during his off days or free time as all he wants is to focus on earning money and sending them back to his family. I can see the look of gratitude in his eyes when he was telling me about his experience in Singapore. He is very grateful towards his boss for treating him well. When asked about retirement, he say he doesn’t give it too much thought as of now.
“I love Singapore. I want to be here and continue working and contributing as long as I am healthy. I don’t care about other things or how other people looks at me. I do my part and I’m happy where I am.” He added before we bade goodbye.
Yan Zengfu, 45, Construction Worker
Unlike Shalan, Yan was spotted with two friends standing around the roadshow chatting happily when I approached him. Yan has been in Singapore for three years and this is actually the fifth country that he has worked in. When asked about his experience in Singapore as compared to other countries, he feel that although he is getting a better pay in terms of remuneration, he feels that he is working much longer hours as compared to the other countries he has worked in. As much as he enjoys being in Singapore, he still doesn’t quite feel at home. “It’s just a place I work. I don’t feel at home but it doesn’t really matter.” Most of his earnings are sent home to support his family of six which includes his parents, wife, and his 18-year-old son who is studying to be an architect.
“Although I’ve a house, a car, and family back home (in China), I think I’ve given up too much in my life. All I do is work and work. If I’m given another chance I would study harder. Not sure what I want to do but I don’t want to be a construction worker. It’s hard work and it lacks longevity. How long more can I be a construction worker?”
He ended the interview with a sense of regret in his voice.
Keane and James, both 18, Volunteers from Victoria Junior College
The event was also joined by some 150 students and corporate volunteers. These volunteers were there helping out with serving the workers as well as interacting with them. They have volunteered for many other causes before but this was something really different for them. According to the teens, they pointed out that they used to sometimes feel that migrant workers do not need help as they are all healthy working adults as compared to say, underprivileged children or the elderly. They were very glad that they signed up for this event as it gave them more insights and understanding about migrant workers as well as how they can actually help.
“They are actually very friendly and fun people to be with but people tend to judge too quickly after reading one or two negative incidents online such as the Little India riot way back in 2013. Sometimes all they want is to be accepted into the country and for people to listen to them. It’s not always about giving them something material. Anyway, they deserve it, they have contributed a lot to our Singapore’s progress.”
Without a doubt, migrant workers are important to our country’s growth. Like what Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing said, happy migrant workers are assets to Singapore. A foreign worker who doesn’t settle well will not only not work well in our country but at the same time become a liability that might compromise our stability and harmony.
With that in mind, the MWC has built up a grassroots network over the years with the MWC Buddies Network. Their main functions includes dissemination of vital information to the migrant worker community; surface grievance cases to MWC for case management and assistance; and providing feedback and checks from the ground on unfair employment practices and potential incidents so that they can quickly engage the workers and if necessary, government agency partners, to diffuse any tension or mitigate any risks that might arise.
More about the Migrant Workers’ Centre here.