By Yeo Sam Jo for The Straits Times on June 3, 2014—
“In a joint statement on Tuesday, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) responded to a statement on the matter issued by MP Christopher De Souza and the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons.
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Here is the joint statement from the Association of Women for Action and Research and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics:
The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) welcome the drafting of the Trafficking In Persons Bill.
We are encouraged by the commitment and efforts of the Interagency Taskforce on Trafficking-in-Persons and Member of Parliament Christopher De Souza to combat trafficking in persons. We are also glad that the Taskforce has taken the feedback of the participants seriously.
However, we would like to address two key areas mentioned in the press release issued by the Taskforce and Mr De Souza on 25 May 2014, namely labour trafficking and victim support.
Many participants at the public consultations called for stronger protection against labour trafficking and for the specification of indicators of what would constitute trafficking in persons, as distinct from employment law offences – a concern which has been mentioned in the press release by MP Chris de Souza and the Trafficking-in-Persons Task Force. During the consultations, the response given by the MP and the Task Force is that offences against migrant workers are “already addressed by existing employment laws.”
Together with HOME, Project X, Workfair, AWARE has reiterated our concern regarding this matter in a Joint Open Letter on the proposed Bill on 15 April, 2014. As we stated, many of us in civil society who have worked extensively on migrant worker issues frequently encounter cases of deceptive recruitment and severe maltreatment of workers which are not addressed by existing legislation – i.e. the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA).
We assert that issues of trafficked and forced labour include the SGD 5,000 security bond, the lack of freedom to change employers, poor protection against long working hours, lack of wage protection, poor enforcement of the Passports Act and the ability of employers to repatriate workers, all of which need to be addressed.
Unless these issues are considered, the proposed Bill will be not be protecting trafficked and deceptively recruited workers, as it is now contingent on an inadequate EFMA to cover gaps.
Victim protection and support measures
The right to alternative employment and basic medical care should also be considered for provision within the Bill. As mentioned in the Joint Civil Society Statement, we believe that not including the right to work in legislation will leave the victim vulnerable to further victimisation through repatriation or deportation.
According to the press release by the Taskforce and Mr De Souza, these are “being provided administratively where merited and can continue to remain so.” This procedure lacks transparency as it is not clear what is meant by “where merited”. In response to our concerns about accurate victim identification and support, we appreciate that there will now be “administrative guidelines…to guide the assessing officer in determining what protection/ support measures to be accorded.” However, we would like to know what these guidelines are and whether they adequately address the needs of victims.
As cited in paragraph 12 of the press release, while some respondents had argued that the proposed protection and support measures above are fundamental entitlements and had to be legislated, others felt that not all these measures needed to become law as these should not be seen “as a right” before the status as a victim had yet to be determined.
Addressing this point, we note from the press release that the Task Force promises “robust and effective ground efforts to…identify victims”, meaning that the status of a victim will be unambiguously identified as a priority. Consequently, there should be no issue about legislating all the protection and support measures in the proposed Bill as there will, presumably, be no prolonged interim period when the status of the victim has yet to be determined.”
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