Dr Stephanie Chok took to her Facebook page on Tuesday (7 April) to question the huge amount in foreign worker levy (FWL) collected by the Government for years that is not mirrored in the “cost” of caring for foreign workers as stated in FWL policy goal.
Dr Chok said that the Singapore Government has collected tax from the employers for each hired work pass holder which range between $300 and $950 per month.
According to Minister of Manpower (MOM), as part of the Government’s effort to regulate the number of foreign workers in the country, employers would need to pay foreign worker levy from the day the work permit is issued until the permit is cancelled or expired.
Dr Chok noted that for each work pass holder in the construction sector, employers need to pay between $300 to $950 per month while work pass holders in the marine sector will cost $300 to $400 per month.
Not to mention the number of migrant workers quarantined in the isolated dormitories of around 20,000 residents in both S11 Dormitory and Westlite Toh Guan dormitories, she calculated the amount of levy which would have been paid by employers.
Assuming that employers are paying the lowest possible rate of S$300—and many are not—this already amounts to S$6,000,000 a month, collected by the SG govt. In a year, just from these 20,000 workers, they would be collecting a MINIMUM of
S$6 million x 12 mths = S$72 million.
If employers had to pay the highest levy rate of S$950 for just 10% of these workers (2,000 men), that would amount to S$1.9 million a month. Each month.
She remarked, “So when there’s talk about the ‘costs’ of caring for migrant workers, let’s also acknowledge how much the state has been collecting for years in foreign worker levies (billions upon billions that go into a ‘consolidated fund’).”
As of June 2019, there are 725,200 migrant workers who are holding work permits. Using Dr Chok’s minimum estimate, this amount comes to $2.6 billion. That’s just migrant workers holding bottom jobs, not including foreign domestic workers, S Passes, and Employment passes.
MOM does not publicly reveal the amount collected via foreign worker levies. Only when questions are raised in Parliament would they disclose figures for one or two years. Back in 2013, then-Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin revealed that the Government collected a total amount of S$2.5 billion for the Financial Year 2011. With the number of migrant workers and increased worker levies, it is probable that the total sum may be $4 billion or more.
Noting the “obscene amount” that have been collected for tax, Dr Chok said, “Little evidence has been furnished to show it has been designated to specifically improve the wellbeing and working and living conditions of low-paid migrant workers (who don’t even get subsidized medical care).”
“The FWL hurts workers, it hurts businesses, and it is not achieving its stated policy goal,” she added.
Dr Chok voiced that government should step up measures and perform their responsibilities to improve the well-being of migrant workers instead of “gaslighting” citizens by accusing them of ‘finger-pointing’ and just showing the ‘costs’ that is being passed down.
“Talk to us about how the foreign worker levies have been spent all these years, and if they will now be spent to alleviate the disastrous conditions in these ‘ticking time bombs’,” she said.
Dr Chok also shared the post of Kokila Annamalai, a community researcher of Massey University, who called the Government to step up working measures for the welfare of foreign workers.
Bad living conditions of migrant workers
After the Government gazetted two foreign workers’ dormitories as isolation areas on Sunday (5 April) following a surge of COVID-19 cases in the dormitories, the issue of bad living conditions faced by foreign workers have been raised.
It was reported that the two dormitories, S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan are rife with overcrowding and pest infestations.
The photos and videos shown the unsanitary and crowded living conditions of where the workers are housed, with cramped space for more than ten people in a room, cockroach-infested kitchens, and flooded rubbish bins at the dormitory.
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) also revealed that the conditions of these dormitory rooms of migrant workers “are nearly ideal for transmission of infection” where it is too overcrowded to practice social distancing between workers.
Speaking on the migrant workers’ condition, veteran diplomat Professor Tommy Koh expressed his regret over the Government for treating foreign workers like “Third World”, evident by the disgraceful treatment these foreign workers have received.
Professor Koh urged the Government to treat these issue as a “wake up call”, saying “Singapore should treat this as a wake up call to treat our indispensable foreign workers like a First World country should and not in the disgraceful way in which they are treated now”.