Labour protection for the vulnerable: an evaluation of the salary and injury claims system for migrant workers in Singapore

Tamera Fillinger, Nicholas Harrigan, Stephanie Chok, Amirah Amirrudin, Patricia Meyer, Meera Rajah, Debbie Fordyce

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


This research report reviews and analyses the system governing the salary and injury claims process for migrant workers in Singapore. It focuses on male Work Permit holders from Bangladesh, China, and India who make up the majority of the workforce in Singapore’s construction and marine sectors. Work Permit holders are the lowest wage category of foreign workers and comprise nearly a third of the total workforce in Singapore. While these workers play an important role in building the nation, they face workplace issues that many would not associate with a modern economy.

The impetus for this research was the persistent number of migrant workers with salary and injury issues who approach Singapore’s migrant worker non-profit organisations (NPOs) for assistance. While the Singapore Government has continued to improve employee protections and clarify employer responsibilities—such as recent legislative amendments requiring employers to provide employment terms and pay slips—the persistence of salary and injury issues shows a disconnect between legislative intent and the practical realities for workers on the ground.

We examine the underlying context of worker vulnerability and experiences with the salary and injury claims process. Drawing on legal and sociological analysis, we employed a two-pronged approach. First, through a review of legislation, Parliamentary debates, regulations, case law, and the claims system, we sought to understand the legislative intent behind the current regulatory framework governing resolution of workers’ claims. While the framework is designed to protect migrant workers, four factors appear to undermine these protections: migrant worker vulnerability, ambiguous legal language, violations of the law, and gaps in administration and enforcement.

Second, our sociological analysis draws on 157 qualitative interviews with migrant workers, as well as interviews and consultations with a range of stakeholders—including academics, industry representatives, and legal and medical practitioners. This is further supported by relevant literature on migrant workers in Singapore.

We have developed policy recommendations by consolidating our legal and sociological analysis, reviewing policies and legislation in comparative jurisdictions—Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Australia, and Germany—and by considering the key principles that undergird labour standards agreed upon by institutions such as ASEAN, the International Labour Organisation, and United Nations agencies.

We acknowledge that the recommendations have associated costs for government, employers, and workers, and potential downstream implications. These costs may constrain policy options. We have sought to identify ways to simplify systems and reduce process ambiguity to improve administrative efficiency and create greater deterrence, which together are intended to reduce incidents and costs over the long term. We present an abbreviated version of our recommendations below. Please see the full version of our recommendations in Chapter 4.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherTransient Workers Count Too
Commissioning bodyTransient Workers Count Too (TWC2) & Chen Su Lan Trust
Number of pages104
ISBN (Electronic)9789811139246
ISBN (Print)9789811139239
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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