International Migrants’ Day 2018: Recognition and Solidarity with Migrant Workers

18 December 2018

It was on 18 December 1990 that the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In 2000, the United Nations declared 18 December International Migrants’ Day, and many organizations around the world mark this date with events and action to demonstrate solidarity with migrants.

In Singapore, we celebrate the contributions of migrant workers, with these celebrations lauding their sacrifice and hard work. Less evident are actions that recognize the need to ‘ensure respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants’. The narrative that migrant workers are ‘lucky’ to be in Singapore, or that the situation is ‘worse’ in other countries of destination, needs to be disrupted and challenged. The persistent streams of workers HOME—and other migrant worker NGOs—continue to see year after year are symptoms of a deeper malaise. Migrant workers continue to report harsh working conditions: excessive working hours, inadequate rest days, multiple forms of wage theft, overcharging of recruitment fees, restrictions on mobility and communication, and lack of access to adequate medical care. There continue to be cases of deceptive recruitment, in which migrant workers are promised jobs with certain salary rates and working conditions, only to arrive and find conditions much less favourable in reality.  

Commemorating IMD needs to go beyond expressions of appreciation. Recognition and solidarity are vital components of improving the protection and wellbeing of migrant workers: we need to acknowledge the structural injustices that keep migrant workers in highly exploitative conditions, and empower as well as work with migrant worker communities to change these conditions.

We continue to urge the Singapore government to ratify the relevant UN and ILO conventions related to migrant workers, including, but not only the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; the Domestic Workers’ Convention, 2011 (C189); and the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

We also urge the government to demonstrate their commitment by aligning national laws and policies to respect the international standards and fundamental rights imbued in such conventions. This applies especially to conventions already ratified by Singapore, including the Forced Labour Convention (C029) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In 2019, we look forward to progress being made in the region, through processes and mechanisms such as the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers and the ASEAN Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. That consensus was reached between ASEAN nations offers some hope that ASEAN Member States can and will strengthen bilateral cooperation to deal with the abusive conditions migrant workers continue to experience as they search for better economic opportunities abroad.

As a civil society partner, we will continue to push for greater accountability mechanisms and meaningful participation in such processes, so that we can advocate for the rights of a community that is so critically depended upon financially but whose needs continue to be marginalized and obscured.

Stephanie Chok