Over half of Singaporeans see migrant workers as ‘cultural threat’, and 3 in 4 think there’s no need for them: ILO and UN

Six in 10 Singaporeans felt that migrant workers cannot expect the same pay benefits as local workers.
The Straits Times

Migrant workers contribute to Singapore in many ways, from building HDB flats to helping out domestically.

And yet, a recent report has revealed that 53 per cent of Singaporeans see them as a “cultural threat”, while three in four do not see a need for them.

Put together by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations (UN) Women and released on Wednesday (Dec 18), the study is based on a survey of 4,099 nationals, of which 1,005 are Singaporean, while the rest are from Japan, Malaysia and Thailand.

It was conducted between December 2018 and January 2019, and also included interviews with employers’ bodies and non-government organisations, among others.

“Migrant workers make crucial contributions to the economies and societies of both origin and destination countries,” the report said, “yet, despite clear labour market shortages…not all of the public are convinced of the need for migrant workers”.

It added that positive attitudes towards migrant workers have declined over the last decade, even as overall migration has increased.

These sentiments were echoed in Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand as well.

The report highlighted that six in 10 Singaporeans felt that migrant workers cannot expect the same pay benefits as local workers, the highest percentage among the four countries surveyed.

However, only 32 per cent of respondents here said that migrant workers have poor work ethnic and cannot be trusted, the lowest share among the four countries.

Singaporeans have better relationships with foreigners

In addition, the report noted that Singaporeans are more likely to have closer relationships with foreigners, such as having friends or colleagues who are migrant workers.

The Singapore public is also better informed when it comes to socio-economic migration trends and facts, than people in other countries.

The report also found that Singapore had the highest score among the four countries in a 15-question index that measures knowledge, attitudes and practices towards migrant workers.

This meant that overall support for migrant workers in Singapore is higher than in other countries.

In order to reverse the negative trends observed, the ILO report stresses the need for collaborative efforts on inclusive policy plans and awareness-raising activities.

Nilim Baruah, ILO’s regional migration specialist for Asia and the Pacific, said that negative perceptions of migrant workers need to be countered with a positive image that corresponds to “the actual contributions they make to both destination and origin economies”.

Baruah added: “Otherwise there will be less support in host societies for a rights-based approach to migration governance where all workers are treated equally and with dignity.”

The report stated that the estimated number of documented migrant workers in South-east Asia and the Pacific is an estimated 11.6 million – 5.2 million of whom are women.

As of June, the total foreign workforce in Singapore numbered 1.4 million, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) found.

These include 189,000 employment pass holders, 284,300 construction workers on work permits, and 255,800 domestic helpers.

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