Conclusion of #SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers and Medical Case Updates
We hope May has been kind to you so far. As always, things have been busy, but we have two very positive pieces of news to share with you this month.
The zakat fundraiser we ran in collaboration with #SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers closed at the end of Ramadan, and we are very pleased to share that we successfully raised SGD $25,000 for R, who will be using this funds for a bone marrow transplant (BMT). He has received the funds and his therapy + timeline for surgery is on track. In the grand scheme of things, especially in a wealthy nation line Singapore, $25,000 is not a lot. But as a small group of individuals, these fundraising efforts are often nerve-wracking, no matter how many times we’ve facilitated them or how routine the process might seem after a while. It is so possible to do big things when many communities come together.
Our best wishes are with R as he goes through with this life-prolonging surgery, and we will continue to share any significant updates as they come.
Ramadan Fundraiser Update, Research Projects, and Ongoing Cases
Ramadan Mubarak and Happy Easter to those who celebrate! We hope the long weekend was restful and kind to you. This month has been a busy one for all of us on the team, especially with work (outside of MMA) and our personal lives/commitments. Nevertheless, we have a few updates we’d like to share with you.
In our last newsletter we mentioned that R—a worker who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and subsequently repatriated in 2020—is in need of funds for a second attempt at a bone marrow transplant (BMT). Our best bet at raising the $25,000 needed was via #SGMuslims4MigrantWorker’s annual zakat-eligible fundraiser, and we are pleased to share that the amount has been met. We will be initiating the payout from LaunchGood and settling the remittance to R at the end of this week.
The fundraiser will remain open till the end of Ramadan, and all remaining contributions will go to TWC2. They are seeking to raise at least $30,000 to distribute replacement mobile phones to destitute Muslim migrant workers: both male construction workers and female domestic workers. Especially since COVID-19, fully functioning mobile phones are indispensable for regulatory compliance, daily communication, approval to leave dormitories for work & recreation, and even mental health and medical needs. But many migrant workers, given poverty and low wages, can only afford poor quality mobile phones insufficient for these purposes.
While cases continue to come in and we continue to support them, we have also expanded our work to include some research that we think is important for both the immediate and long-term landscape of migrant justice in Singapore. At the moment, we are putting together an accessible legal handbook (in the relevant languages) for migrant workers to use. The importance of this was made clear through a number of cases we have worked on, where the complexity and nuances of the law and legal language has made it difficult for both workers to understand their rights, and for us to figure out how best to support them.
We have also found, on many occasions, that the helplines & help centres put into place by the state to support & soften this legal process ends up performing a bureaucracy that is so difficult and time-consuming to navigate, especially for a worker who is 1) not a native speaker of English, and 2) simply does not have the time to stay on hold or 3) make a trip down to the MOM in person. The intention behind this handbook is to equip workers with usable information needed to work through these bureaucratic obstacles, as well as be able to understand the potential risks and recourse involved.
Illegal Salary Deductions, Ramadan Fundraiser, and Being in a Documentary
We hope this newsletter finds you in good health and spirits. The greater part of these last 2 months have been spent doing research work and handling cases that do not necessarily require funds/fundraisers e.g. speaking to employers and providing information and emotional support to workers. We also have 2 other updates that we will go into below.
J is a Bangladeshi worker who experienced pain in his anal region for a prolonged period while he was in Singapore and eventually returned to Bangladesh in April 2021 due to his boss’s refusal to exercise J’s insurance and pay for his medical treatment. He took a loan of 1.8 lac to cover the surgery that was needed and we fundraised for the repayment here. The post contains a voice recording from his employer/supervisor asking if he wanted a monthly or one-time salary deduction for his hospital bill—which is illegal. Unfortunately, a lot of workers are subject to illegal salary deductions for costs that employers are meant to bear.
Instances of wage theft tend to persist unchecked because employers are uniquely positioned to mediate between workers and the law. During the height of COVID-19, one of the most common forms of illegal salary deductions were for quarantine fees. Workers’ welfare in lockdown, amongst other things, was a topic that was brought up in Parliament quite a lot and the government’s solution to this was to waive the foreign worker levy and levy rebates for April. Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad justified this saying “employers should be able to continue to pay their salaries and provide accommodation and food” and “urg[ed] employers to pass on the support measures to workers.” What this fails to consider, however, is that employers can pass on support just as easily as they can pass on costs, so in a system that fundamentally operates on the low-wage labour of foreign workers to turn massive profits, it is no surprise that employers do the latter more than the former.
“How do we support mothers? How do we educate children? How do we organise against state violence? And then afterwards, how do we create some kind of political education that exists in the archives and documents what we were doing so that someone else might pick up the work and continue.”
Casework Updates, Imminent Hangings, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed
It’s been a whole year (!) since we started this fund and it is difficult to put into words just how grateful we are that you have, and continue to, extend so much trust and solidarity as we do this work together. As we continually highlight, the SSF is a brilliant and important safety net for workers because the nature & influx of cases we get are volatile, meaning some months depend on the fund far more than others. Last month we disbursed about $10,000 via the SSF for 10 medical-related needs, while this month we only needed to exercise it once.
N is the 30-year-old Bangladeshi worker who was in need of a tonsillectomy last month. His employer was refusing to pay for the procedure and had only been reimbursing $30 per hospital visit. We covered his A&E bill in January and, because his employer continued to refuse payment despite the scheduling of a specialist appointment, we also covered his consultation and scope procedure fees. In instances like these we only negotiate with the employer if the worker is keen and we have their consent.
We accompanied him to his appointment and the doctor confirmed that while one tonsil is larger than the other, it is not untoward and he doesn’t need surgery at this point. Considering tonsillitis is an infection, it is likely that he recovered on his own after the initial bouts of severe pain. While his medical need is fulfilled at this point, N suspects that his company is involved in unethical practises regarding workers’ insurance claims. He raised the issue with us and we are working together to see if we can put together a case to bring to MOM or to the company directly.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed
I finally got around to crossing this book off my list after 2 years and I’m really glad I did because there is so much to be learnt from Freire, especially as we try to make the shift from theory to praxis. It’s not long and I highly recommend it if you haven’t given it a chance (PDF available here).
¹Foley, Barbara. Marxist Literary Criticism Today. Pluto Press, 2019. p 28.
³ Freire, Paulo and Macedo, Donaldo. Ideology Matters. Boulder CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. pp 25-26.
New Medical Needs, Podcast Episode, & the Nature of State Violence
We hope the new year has been kind to you so far. It’s hard to believe we are now officially in our second year of doing this together. January has been an unusually busy month for us with 17 cases to work through but we are pleased to share that the SSF has been a constant source of support for workers. The fund was exercised a lot this month and details of each transaction + case are below.
AK is a 23-year-old Bangladeshi worker who was diagnosed with sarcoidosis (an inflammation in the lungs and lymph nodes). It requires lifelong monitoring & medication but does not impair his ability to work. He reached out to us in Nov 2021 because his employers were threatening to cancel his Work Permit after receiving a Letter of Undertaking from MOM—a document which requires employers to acknowledge any medical conditions that their worker might have. Despite the fact that AK had been paying for his own medical bills (before we stepped in to help), his employers booked a repatriation flight back on 18th Nov 2021 and even declined to issue a transfer letter after AK obtained a doctor’s memo declaring him fit to work.
On the bright side, he has currently been placed at a new job via the SCAL scheme and his sarcoidosis is improving with the medication he was prescribed.
Migrant Mutual Aid Wrapped
The end of 2021 is close and while this year has been nothing short of difficult, the new year traditionally brings hope and possibility. There is lots of joy and excitement around this time of year, but there is also a collective cynicism about resolution-making and our ability as fickle human beings to stick to them. As a team we are not exempt from the desire to use the new year as a threshold for change; to try things we haven’t yet been able to, emboldened by something as simple as linear time. So while we will be gathering as a team to talk about 2022, we are less inclined to make resolutions as we are tangible changes and decisions that can elevate and spiral our work upwards.
That being said, we would like to invite you to write to us with any feedback, comments, thoughts, critique etc that you might have. It doesn’t have to be formally put together or solution-oriented or directly related to any of our cases. All offerings are welcome. You are a big part of the process of change-making and we would love to hear from you and involve you as much as possible.
This month we did not exercise the Standing Solidarity Fund because we have been working on non-financial related cases. While we are not at liberty to share details at this point, they mainly involve wage theft, wrongful/unlawful termination, denial of medical treatment/information, and WICA cases. Nevertheless, we thank you for your continued trust, solidarity, and allyship with workers.
Imagining the Revolution
I want to end the final newsletter of this year by returning to bell hooks, a writer, feminist, and activist who passed this month. It was a loss I grieved deeply because bell hooks and Audre Lorde are the two writers that moulded the trajectory of my thought and the way I feel very fundamentally. I referenced hooks’ All About Love in a previous newsletter because it provided such a powerful lens for understanding and embodying love in activism—a term so richly used but poorly understood.
“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.”
Wrongful Terminations, Life Expectancy in the Global South, and the Death Penalty
We hope you had a good Diwali/Deepavali and that the end of the year is treating you kindly. We’ve had a very busy month working through complex cases and have had to learn to be patient in these processes. The law continues to favour employers and workers continue to be denied a fair shake but we do this work with the hope that one day we no longer have to.
We made a number of SSF disbursements this month which have been able to support 4 workers and their families in various ways. We will address each of these and some other cases below.
As a quick recap, ‘A’ is a worker we fundraised for + supported via the SSF in April-May 2021. He had flown back to India to be with his ailing father, who was also a migrant worker in Singapore for 16 years. ‘A’ needed support with paying for his father’s dialysis and fistula surgeries. Unfortunately, we received news at the end of October that his father passed away after his condition deteriorated rapidly.. He was 51 years old. ‘A’ requested help with the funeral-related costs and we used the SSF to send him the funds as quickly as possible. ‘A’ is still in India and waiting for an opportunity to return to Singapore to continue working.
This prompted us to consider the inequality of life expectancy rates, especially in the Global South where people and resources continue to be exploited by the Global North for profit. Singapore is not exempt from this pattern of racial capitalism, seeing as more than 1 million members of our workforce are low-wage migrant workers from neighbouring countries. Poor migrants are unable to access good, affordable healthcare—both in their home countries and in the country they spend most of their adult lives labouring for. This means that the checkups and tests we take as routine under a subsidised healthcare system are completely inaccessible to men like ‘A’ and his father, resulting in belated diagnoses, undetected illnesses, and overall bad health. To live beyond their 60s is fairly uncommon for people in the Global South, an entire deterritorialized geography of people who have suffered the biggest blows of capitalism’s externalities.
*Blacklisting is a common term used by employers and agencies to intimidate workers, but the only body with the authority to prevent someone from seeking employment in the country is the MOM, and this is usually for instances where the worker has broken a law.
Inaccessible Medical Insurance, Supporting Workers’ Families, and the SBS Lawsuit
We hope this message finds you with stamina and in good spirits despite the recent extension to COVID restrictions in Singapore. This last month has been a difficult one with regards to migrant justice—more migrant men killed and injured in road accidents while being transported on lorries, more workers who have been reaching out to us regarding negligent employers and outstanding medical claims, and another set of restrictions that leave workers trapped in dormitories for yet another month (or more).
Yet, there is hope. This month also saw workers at Westlite Jalan Tukang Dormitory stand up for their rights and demand accountability. They organised and confronted dormitory management over mismanagement of the COVID outbreak at the dormitory, with video and photo evidence surfacing regarding the lack of proper housing and isolation facilities, pest-ridden food unfit for consumption, and the lack of access to healthcare. Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng responded by patronisingly referring to migrant workers as ‘brothers’. You can read the worker’s reply here.
Kidney Transplant Fundraiser and One Year of Migrant Mutual Aid
It feels like just a few months ago that we began this collaboration, and three quarters of the year has gone by within a blink of an eye. October will mark exactly one year since we started Migrant Mutual Aid. To our team, this is all still quite surreal. From the amount of funds raised collectively, the workers we have supported, the friendships we have built, and the solidarity that so many people have extended — from our coordinators, to people who self-organised their own fundraisers for MMA, to you — we are very appreciative.There is so much more to be learnt and done, and it is lovely to have you here.
We are also happy to share that our team is slowly expanding! Individuals have reached out to us in varying capacities to offer time and energy, which makes the work a lot easier.
Ms R is a Filipino domestic worker who was referred to us by her friend. She had been experiencing gum & tooth pains, and was in need of a dentures replacement. Through the healthcare workers callout we did on Instagram in May, we managed to partner with a dentist who was willing & able to treat Ms R’s root canal for free. However his clinic was not able to provide the dentures replacement, so Ms R sourced a dentist that was affordable and she was comfortable with. We disbursed $310 from our SSF for this procedure and she is in much better health now.
S (M13)’s listing is currently live on both our Instagram page and website. You can read the full details of his case here. As of 20th Sept, we have raised $5,937/$14,244, and if we cannot fulfil the rest of the amount by mid-October, ‘S’ will have to reschedule his surgery for later in the year of after, depending on when we can fulfil the amount. We have spoken with him about contingency plans in case we don’t meet our first fundraising deadline.
Scam Cases and The Politics of Moonlighting
We hope you and your family had a restful long weekend over the National Day holiday. This is the time of year that is most disillusioning for some when we ask ourselves, “What is the real Singapore story?” We watch tributes and narratives aired on national television that present only a minute—and even then obscured—version of our ‘stories’. We watch fireworks blast against the backdrop of a well-manicured skyline, the construction of which remains a violent yet opaque part of our history. We know men have died building these skyscrapers, yet there is little to no information on the exact statistics of these figures, let alone their names and faces. This makes it difficult for us to learn, to organise, and to lobby for a more equitable Singapore. Critiquing and fighting for change against power is to love our country and our people enough to desire change; yet it is a patriotic sentiment that is so deeply policed and clamped down on.
As always, your solidarity via this fund has been immensely helpful. In the last month we have continued to coordinate listings that were either non-monetary or did not require fundraisers (thanks to your contributions!).
*While there is no legal definition of “moonlighting”, the term is commonly understood to refer to a situation in which a person, aside from having a full-time job, additionally holds either a part-time job, or is self-employed (e.g. freelancing). It is important to note that the only group of workers in Singapore who are completely barred from moonlighting are foreign employees holding an S Pass or Work Permit.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
New Fundraiser, A WICA Case, and Concluding ‘Into The Forest’
We hope the month of July has been pleasant for you so far and Eid al-Adha Mubarak to those who celebrate, including our Muslim migrant workers, many of whom still have their mobility restricted one year on.
Mr. S was referred to us by HealthServe because he needed to replace his damaged phone before returning to Bangladesh after a successful WICA case outcome. We were able to meet this need fairly quickly after conducting a phone call-out via Instagram but upon meeting ‘S’ to pass him the phone, we learnt that he had a few other pre-existing needs.
“When we are engaged in acts of love, we humans are at our best and most resilient. The love in romance that makes us want to be better people, the love of children that makes us change our whole lives to meet their needs, the love of family that makes us drop everything to take care of them, the love of community that makes us work tirelessly with broken hearts.”
SSF Transactions, New Listings, and Closing the India COVID Fundraiser
We hope you are having a good month of June so far, and Happy Father’s Day to everyone—including domestic helpers who play an important role in our parenting, and all the migrant men who spend many such celebratory days away from their families to earn a living.
May/June has been a particularly busy month for our team, and we have managed to work through a couple of cases without having to list them. We are also currently coordinating 8-10 listings that are not yet active on our website, or that require other non-monetary assistance. We will address these individually later on in this email.
We began this fundraiser in May in response to India’s growing COVID-19 crisis. The fundraiser was live for 5 weeks and a total of SGD $14,080 was raised via public contributions. As a team, we decided to make a top-up of SGD SGD $1,000 from the SSF to each organization to further support their efforts on the ground, making the final total SGD $16,080 (i.e. SGD $8,040 to each org).
One thing that was noteworthy about the fundraiser is the way groups and individuals found ways to self-organise within their work/art/capacities to support our larger fundraiser. We want to shout out @paatiphilosophy and @thelocalrebel (both on Instagram) for their self-initiated craft and zine fundraisers respectively.
As this particular fundraiser comes to a close, we also want to reiterate the intention behind it. Migrant Mutual Aid is partial to mutual aid work and initiatives everywhere, as we believe solidarity is always with the working class and those who have been made vulnerable by oppressive systems. COVID-19 has exposed how the status quo privileges a certain class of people, and it is only through solidarity work that we can redistribute wealth and self-organise networks that are built by people and that work for people.
While we do the work in Singapore, we must also be cognisant of the fact that we are inextricably plugged into a larger system of global racial capitalism that leads many South Asian migrants to countries like Singapore to seek work opportunities. Furthermore, both pre-independent and modern Singapore’s infrastructures and architectures were built by Indian slave labour during British colonialism and migrant workers from South Asia. Contributing aid towards India’s health crisis is an important step in displaying our regional interconnectedness and solidarity.
JP is a 41-year old Filipino domestic helper who is now back in her hometown Ilo Ilo after working in Singapore for 8 years. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in April, and her employers terminated her contract after learning about her diagnosis without warning, notice period, or severance pay. She has since flown back to the Philippines and is receiving treatment there. The money sent to JP through the SSF was used for a downpayment on her curative surgery and we have just received news that she will require further chemoradiotherapy as her cancer was discovered to be at Stage 3C during surgery.
We will be listing the case for public fundraising soon, where we will share more information about her story, the gross negligence on the part of her employers and her agency, and her needs moving forward. Do keep a look out for JP’s listing this month, and please spread the word if you can!
Hello from the MMA Team, Update on Recent Projects, & Thank You for Your Solidarity
We hope this email finds you in good health and spirits. This is our first time reaching out to contributors since we started the Standing Solidarity Fund in February 2021, and we wanted to personally thank you, as well as share how we have been using the fund. We do this not only to create transparency and accountability around our processes, but also to continue building trust with communities (yes, you!) who are allied in our work towards migrant justice and equity in Singapore.
We would like to highlight A’s situation in particular as a case in point to illustrate why we set up the Standing Solidarity Fund. ‘A’ is a 22 year old worker from Tamil Nadu who was referred to us by another organisation in Singapore that does not primarily work with migrant workers. When we reached out to ‘A’, he was in urgent need of help. He abruptly left Singapore to be with his ailing father in India, who suffered a heart attack from end stage kidney failure (ESRF) and was in need of an immediate fistula procedure to commence dialysis. A’s father himself was a migrant worker in Singapore for 15 years before returning to India a few years ago. ‘A’s basic pay is $520/month and he is the sole breadwinner of the family; he had to borrow money from his manager in Singapore to purchase his ticket home. He did not have any means to afford his father’s procedure, and we were able to quickly verify the need and send him money from the SSF, as reflected above. Right after his father underwent the fistula procedure and was set up for dialysis treatment , India went into their second lockdown. ‘A’ mentioned over a call that his father would probably not have made it if he did not get the fistula in time. We made multiple disbursements to A due to the evolving nature of his father’s need (the first fistula operation failed) as well as the current complex situation in India which has caused immense inflation and priced A’s family out of most necessities, including food and healthcare.