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Between ‘Helping Hand’ & Reality:

Inflexibilities, Experiences &

Problems of
Temporary Job Scheme
Presentation Outline
-  Introduction and Background
-  Research Objectives
-  Methodology & Issues
-  Research Findings
-  Discussion of Implications
-  Recommendations
-  In 18 March 2008, The Straits Times published an
article, titled “For them, this is HOME”
-  victims of unscrupulous rogue agents or prosecution

-  Acting Minister for Manpower, Mr Gan Kim Yong:

victims who unknowingly stayed or worked illegally in
Singapore and foreign workers required as prosecution
witnesses will be issued Special Passes and allowed to
participate in Ministry of Manpower’s Temporary Job

-  Special Pass holders choose to work illegally:

charged under the Employment of Foreign Manpower
Act and may be liable to a fine of up to $5,000 or 12
months’ jail, or both, if convicted
-  Up to date, there is no detailed information provided by
Ministry of Manpower on Temporary Job Scheme
-  lack of public access to information on the Scheme can
1.  efficient usage
2.  constructive feedback
3.  timely attention to migrant workers’ welfare

-  research seeks to clarify:

1.  ambiguities
2.  lived experiences of foreign workers and employers in
accessing and using the Temporary Job Scheme
3.  revealing the gaps between the Scheme and its lack of
commitment in addressing migrant workers’ needs and welfare
Research Objectives
1.  Identify and discuss the relevance of Temporary Job Scheme (TJS)
and Special Pass in protection of non-domestic foreign workers

and also attempt to clarify some of the ambiguities inherent to them

2. Examine the experiences and perceptions of non-domestic migrant

workers and employers in relation to the Special Pass and Temporary
Jobs Scheme;

focusing on obstacles, feasibility and practicality of the Scheme for them.

3. Suggestions for appropriate standards and practices to inform on-

going policy and welfare discussions on migrant workers.
Methodology: Primary Data
1. gathering background information from individuals who have prior
knowledge on the Temporary Job Scheme
-  cases of obstacles and problems faced by non-domestic foreign
workers and employers in using the Temporary Job Scheme

2. on-site observations of the Temporary Job Scheme

-  4 visits were made to the regular Temporary Job Scheme Job-
Placement Exercises held at Ministry of Manpower, Kim Seng
-  between 28 May and 5 June 2008; between 10am to 3pm
-  Notes were taken:
-  observing how the Scheme works
-  availability of information on the Scheme
Methodology: Primary Data
3. survey interviews with foreign workers and employers
-  Semi-structured survey interviews
-  14 foreign workers registered under Temporary Job Scheme were
involved: 5 China, 5 India, 2 Sri Lanka, 2 Bangladesh
-  conducted in groups during the 4 on-site visits
-  5 Singaporean employers were approached: 3 during on-site visits, 2
through personal networks

4. requiring assistance from Ministry of Manpower’s officers through

emails and helpline.
-  a list of questions were compiled and sent to Ministry of Manpower
-  calls to the Ministry’s customer service helpline
Methodology: Sampling Issues

-  survey interviews were conducted briefly

-  language barriers exist when engaging non-Chinese foreign workers
-  some foreign workers present but not registered under the TJS
offered further information on the non-feasibilities of the Scheme
-  limited respondents involved in this study; not comprehensive
-  What this study offers?
-  shows how a small sample of respondents can unveil the
inadequacies of Temporary Job Scheme in attending to migrant
workers’ needs and welfare
Methodology: Secondary Data

-  searching archives of news articles and parliamentary reports

-  focus was on obtaining information on Temporary Job Scheme
-  limited data was recovered
-  earliest mentioning of Temporary Job Scheme in news articles was in
July 2007 (The Straits Times; titled “Illegals, but cannot leave the
country yet”)
Temporary Job Scheme & Special Pass

-  Temporary Job Scheme: a channel to find employment

-  a Special Pass is issued to a foreign worker who is not eligible for
any other Work Passes
-  not allowed to work in Singapore under Special Pass

-  How to work then?

1.  seeking an interested employer on his or her own, and apply for
Work Permit through MOM under that employer
2.  register under TJS and wait for an interested employer to be
matched to the foreign worker, and apply for Work Permit under that
Temporary Job Scheme: Who?
1. Foreign Workers:
-  can only be used by Special Pass holders
-  foreign workers on any Work Passes would only be eligible for the
job stated on the Work Pass
-  to produce the Special Pass as documentation of their legal
presence in Singapore
(i) victims of rogue agents
(ii) prosecution witnesses

2. Employers:
-  All employers who have not breached any legislation
-  in the listed job types under Temporary Job Scheme
Temporary Job Scheme: How?

-  central system where Special Pass holders and employers come

together to make legal arrangements for employment of foreign
-  register under TJS for MOM to confirm their eligibility
-  employer will be informed and is responsible for making
arrangements with the foreign worker(s) to apply for Work Permit
-  employer can still choose to terminate a foreign worker’s Work
Permit anytime he is not needed
Temporary Job Scheme: What Jobs?

-  7 main types of jobs

1.  Manufacturing
2.  Marine
3.  Agritechnology
4.  Incinerator Plant
5.  Landscaping
6.  Construction
7.  Service Dormitory
Temporary Job Scheme: What Jobs?
-  All foreign workers under TJS are not allowed to work in Services
-  specific requirements in application for a Work Permit still apply in
-  foreign workers are only allowed to work in sectors where they
come from the listed approved source countries
* NAS (North Asian Sources: Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea and Taiwan)
NTS (Non-Traditional Sources: India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines and Pakistan)
PRC (People’s Republic of China)

-  While all foreign workers can work in all sectors, NTS workers are
not allowed to work in Manufacturing and Services sector
Temporary Job Scheme: Relevance
-  Foreign workers who are holding the Special Pass can stay legally
in Singapore
-  The Temporary Job Scheme offers them a channel to seek
employment opportunities
-  Based on the system, foreign workers would be safe from
unscrupulous agents or employers since all job matches are
carefully screened through Ministry of Manpower to ensure
-  Compared to Hong Kong and Taiwan: Singapore has a government
system which provides a central channel to help foreign workers in
need seek jobs
-  Temporary Job Scheme represents a state effort and ‘helping hand’
in attending to migrant workers’ welfare
Temporary Job Scheme: Problems!!!
-  unequal opportunity for NTS workers to seek jobs through the
Temporary Job Scheme, but…
they constitute a large group of the Special Pass holders present at
the Job-Placement Exercises (based on site observations)

-  negligence for the welfare of foreign workers during the job-

matching period…
1. between 1 and 2 weeks before a suitable job is matched
2. not allowed to work
3. no employers to provide housing

-  Without money for food and shelter, these foreign workers do not
even receive the most basic needs, much less decent welfare
The Reality: Experiences of Foreign

1.  Low Wages

-  jobs they have been matched to range from SGD15 to SGD20 a day
-  most of the time falling between SGD15 to SGD18 a day
-  foreign workers more willing to accept jobs that offer them SGD20
or above…
but the reality is that such offers are rare under the Temporary Job
-  wages offered by employers through Temporary Job Scheme is
lower than what would have been offered outside the Scheme
(suggested by foreign workers; their perception matters as it leads
to them not accepting TJS jobs)
The Reality: Experiences of Foreign

2. Empty Promises on Wages:

-  foreign worker did not know about any documentation stating the
total sum of money he is entitled
-  Verbal information
-  shifted the responsibility of conveying important information such
as the documented wage to the discretion of the employers
-  Exploitation of foreign workers ‘legally’ ???
(eg. Employer stated SGD600 for a temp. job -> documented in contract
in absence of worker -> told worker he is offering SGD800 -> when job
completed, pays worker SGD600 -> worker complains paid lesser, but
legal contract states the sum as ‘correct’ -> how does worker prove he
was misinformed purposely?)
The Reality: Experiences of Foreign

3. Jobs Non-Suitability:
-  the jobs matched to them are often not the jobs they prefer
-  wages are low and they do not find interest in the jobs, they are
most likely to give up on the match
-  Foreign workers, like any other workers, seek a balance between
wage and appeal of a particular job
-  a reasonable requirement for any workers seeking employment
opportunities in the labour market
The Reality: Experiences of Foreign

4. Alternative Choices:
-  enjoyment of ‘freedom’ as a Special Pass holder; not under the
surveillance and control of any employer
-  however, this does not preclude them from experiencing realistic
issues such as lack of money, food and shelter
-  reality is that foreign workers face more than two choices when it
comes to finding jobs in Singapore
-  between a higher and lower paying job, they go for the higher
paying, and often illegal, job
-  compounded by the fact that they need to earn the most in the
shortest time to return home
The Reality: Experiences of Employers

1. Inaccessibility to Information:
-  largely lack information on the Temporary Job Scheme’s terms of
-  ‘not sure; not bothered to find out more’ attitude
-  if they do not know more details of the Scheme…
no incentives to employ foreign workers under the Temporary Job
-  seems to be more of a hassle to them
The Reality: Experiences of Employers

2. Stereotyping Foreign Workers:

-  Perceive Special Pass holders as ‘problematic’ and ‘dangerous’
-  more careful and selective during the Work Permit application phase
-  power to choose workers which they think appeared to be docile
and compliant
The Reality: Experiences of Employers

3. Over-Reliance on Philanthropy:
-  attribute their willingness to employ foreign workers through the
Temporary Job Scheme as an act of compassion
-  justified their offering of lower wages as a form of incentive to
employ foreign workers through the Scheme
-  inflected through the politics of difference; misconstrued as
-  low wages offered by employers cannot be conceived solely as a
kind motivation nor bargaining labour costs of employers…
but possible discrimination based on nationality and differences
Focusing Control, Lacking Commitment
1.  Temporary Job Scheme has its relevance… But:
-  focus is on management of foreign workers
-  the arrangement of a foreign worker to be employed shifts the
responsibility of management and surveillance from the state to the

2. little consideration for the needs and welfare of foreign workers

-  inflexibility masks the problems of inaccessibility and obstacles faced
by foreign workers / employers
-  more could be done to provide solution-focused help to the foreign

3. no evidence of proper channels to express their concerns and

feedbacks on TJS
Onus of Workers’ Welfare on Employers
1. power imbalance replicated through the Temporary Job Scheme
-  Foreign workers are subjected to the selectivity of employers;
judgements inflected by biases, misinformed stereotypes and lack of
knowledge on the situations of Special Pass holders

2. lack of appropriate standards to ensure well-being of foreign workers

-  Investigation Officer has a greater responsibility to play in ensuring
integrity and honesty between a foreign worker and employer

3. philanthropic motivations of employers should not be underestimated

nor overestimated
-  State-sponsored incentives as a balancing tool to encourage
employment of foreign workers under TJS without the need for them to
push wages below decent levels
On Job Opportunities

1.  Reconsider specific requirements of source countries

2.  Permit all job offers available to foreign workers under the TJS,
regardless of their source countries

3.  Include employers in Services Sector to offer jobs to foreign workers

under the TJS

4.  system which foreign workers can indicate their job and wage
On wage Security

1.  minimum wage

2.  standard contract under the Temporary Job Scheme; Standard

procedure in declaration of details in contract by Investigation
Officer in presence of both employer and foreign worker
On Welfare Standards

1.  Redirect portions of the levy contributed by employers towards a

central welfare funds for migrant workers; Foreign workers who
wish to receive this assistance will have to produce their Special
Pass as document of legal presence in Singapore and be registered
under the Temporary Job Scheme

2.  Consider some state-sponsored incentives in TJS for employers

On Information Access

1.  include information on the TJS and relevant details such as the
terms and conditions on MOM website

2.  Distribution of information on Temporary Job Scheme to other

stakeholders and government agencies

1.  Employers-targeted outreach and education; potential area for

further research by NGOs and researchers

2.  efforts in empowering migrant workers to seek justice through their

respective Embassies; migrant workers to engage with Embassies
as Representatives.