Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): Mr Chairman, last year saw 46 workplace deaths, the highest since 2016. We need to reflect on that.
Migrant workers are more vulnerable to unsafe workplace practices because of their limited bargaining power. They need employers’ consent to transfer to a new job, save exceptions. This can be held against them and they might not dare to speak up for fear of repatriation.
We need to make the playing field less uneven perhaps by allowing workers to transfer jobs without their employers’ consent in two scenarios. If they provide evidence of unsafe work, they should be allowed to resign without notice and stay here for two months to find another employer if that evidence is borne out. Second, they should be allowed to transfer if they have been working for at least one year with their current employer with a one-month notice period without their current employer being allowed to cancel their Work Permit during that period. This will incentivise employers to create safer, decent work environments.
Also, can MOM empower workers to call out unsafe work practices? During settling in, MOM can assure them that whistle-blowers’ identities are kept confidential and they will be protected from dismissal. MOM can reward whistle-blowers if complaints are found to be valid.
Next, under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), designated insurers process all WICA claims. An issue is that the WICA insurers become “gatekeepers” who determine which claims are valid before compensation is assessed. This creates a conflict of interest since insurers might be incentivised to deny validity.
In 2019, the then-Minister of State said MOM was rolling out a system of checks and balances. Has MOM reviewed the performance of WICA insurers to see if this system is adequate? Does MOM proactively monitor each insurer’s performance or does it only investigate complaints? How does MOM ensure that designated insurers comply with stipulated timelines for processing claims? Are insurers penalised for failing to comply?
The WICA insurers’ manual should be published so the public can hold insurers accountable and report potential non-compliance.
Can MOM also review the use of an independent assessor such as the Commissioner of Labour previously? This is done in New Zealand and Ireland.
Lastly, on the subject of good quality food for migrant workers, there have been issues in the past and I have spoken on this topic in the House before. I suggest that: one, every new dormitory should be equipped with cooking facilities for workers. Many migrant workers prefer to cook their own food; secondly, can SFA consider mandating that catered food is delivered in safe eating conditions as per the NEA regulations applicable for cooked food supplied by caterers for events? If this means food storage or a shift towards freezers and microwaves, so be it.
Ministry of Manpower
1 March 2023