AN AWARD-WINNING book by a Bangladeshi man, Md Sharif Uddin, shining light on the lives of labourers who have gone in their thousands from poorer parts of Asia in search of a better future is a testimony to the ups and downs of migrant workers in Singapore, from high hopes on their arrival to disappoint. Toiling for long hours for meagre salaries and living in crowded hostels, as New Age reported on Friday, migrant construction workers have helped to build the modern-day Singapore but remain all but invisible to many in the affluent city-state. People, back home, will never understand the hardship they go through. They think that workers lead a luxurious life in Singapore where they earn a lot. Countrymen of these workers consider Singapore an attractive destination and many of them are interested to work there to enjoy and bring about a change in their life.
As for Sharif Uddin, even after 11 years in Singapore he does not feel at home there and is still struggling. He owned a bookshop in Bangladesh, but fell on hard times and was forced to leave his pregnant wife to go abroad to find work. From being a boss with a small staff in Bangladesh, he found himself relegated to the position of a labourer doing the kind of back-breaking work native Singaporeans often shun. One would not understand woes of workers there who are living in a hostel with about 25 other construction workers and typically toiling for 12 hours a day. Many migrant construction workers are housed in self-contained hostel complexes in less desirable areas of the city. Sometimes, they experience what it means to be lonely in the crowd of migrants, feeling the burden of age although most of them are relatively young. There are laws in place there to protect foreign workers and to regulate their housing and most employers are responsible for their staff. But most employers in Singapore, as is evident in the report, do not care to abide by the rules. With the hard work of about 280,000 foreign construction workers in the city of 5.6 million, Singapore has developed from a poor trading outpost to a financial hub home to high rises and shopping malls. But migrant workers there are still tottering in an adverse situation as their ‘labour and sacrifice’, which helped the drive of Singapore’s transformation, remain largely unrecognised.
As remittances from migrant workers, along with apparel-sector export earnings, remain the mainstay of the economy, the incumbents must take expeditious steps to work out binding bilateral agreements with Singapore to effectively protect the rights of migrant workers and to direct the Bangladesh mission there to address worker issues on a priority basis.
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