Monthly Newsletter Archive

These newsletters are sent out via email every month to contributors of the Standing Solidarity Fund (SSF). Some information has been redacted to remove time-sensitive actionables and confidential details regarding SSF disbursals. They are written by a member of our team who is anonymised here.

NOV 2022

Reflecting on families left behind, systemic aspects of Singapore’s migrant labour regime, and “safety measures” for transporting workers in lorries

We made major disbursements from the SSF were made to families after the illness and death of their only/primary breadwinner (SH and R). Another significant disbursement was made to a worker just diagnosed with cancer – at only 35 years old – so that he may prolong his life for as long as possible in order to spend time with his family (RN). The case of IM/NJ (covered in several previous newsletters and which we continue to support) brings home the devastating, potentially multi-generational consequences that one work accident can have on a family. Additionally, VR’s case (below, with a fundraiser ongoing until 7 Dec 2022) illustrates the debt and poverty cycles in which migrant workers and their families can become enmeshed simply from one family member becoming ill.

At the same time, these ‘tragedies’ are not simply the variations of life. They are contributed to – if not caused by – features of the migrant labour system: whether this is wages systemically kept ultra-low (VR’s case), the systemic difficulties migrant workers in Singapore face in pursuing claims for work injury compensation / wage theft (IM/NJ, MA and DH), or due to the systemic vulnerabilities which make it so hard to enforce laws meant to reduce workplace and/or lorry accidents (see our reflections below on DH’s case). 

How the SSF was disbursed this month
We wrote about SH in last month’s newsletter. In short, SH was a 50-year-old Bangladeshi man who was diagnosed in October 2022 with Stage 4 liver cancer, and who unexpectedly passed away less than 24 hours after arriving back in Bangladesh, where he had hoped to spend his last days with his family. As explained in our previous newsletter, our team decided that an SSF disbursement would be more appropriate than the fundraiser we had initially been planning, since SH’s family’s needs were now urgent after his sudden demise. This disbursement has now been made. This is based on discussions with SH’s widow as to their current needs and monthly expenses.

R (M02)’s case was a major case we had been supporting in the last three years. You can see our previous newsletters as well as previous fundraisers – in collaboration with #SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers. As we updated in our July 2022 newsletter, R unfortunately passed away from his multiple myeloma (a type of bone marrow cancer) in June 2022. The family R left behind includes his wife and his two young children. 

By the time R passed away, his family had exhausted all the funds raised on his medical treatment. In fact, R’s brother, who is also a migrant worker in Singapore, incurred new debt to support R’s last few days in the ICU. R’s brother declined our offer to explore ways to help pay off his debt, stating that we had helped their family enough, and that any further support we wished to offer should go towards R’s widow and children. 

The funds we sent to R’s family comprises 6 months of monthly expenses. We hope that this will tide R’s family over while they find their feet again and find new means of livelihood. 

RN is a 32-year-old Bangladeshi migrant worker who was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer in October 2022, with a prognosis of 1 year without treatment. His dependents include his wife, who was 9 months pregnant when he was diagnosed, and a son. When our team met him this month, he was hospitalised in Singapore and had just undergone radiotherapy for his bone metastases as well as a palliative operation to remove his feeding tube. 

We sent RN funds from the SSF to ensure that he had cash in hand to commence treatment as soon as possible upon repatriation to Bangladesh – specifically chemotherapy, which is not expected to cure his cancer but to (hopefully) prolong his life to a best prognosis of 2 years. Given his age, his short prognosis, and the fact that he has worked away from his family for the last 8 years , any additional time RN is able to spend with his family is precious. We continue to be in touch with RN and will continue to render support as he continues with his treatment. 

Ongoing casework
We are currently running a fundraiser for VR, a 35-year-old shipyard worker from India, to pay off debts he incurred to pay his father’s medical bills and recent funeral. Despite the dangerous nature of his work (see more in our fundraiser), and four years into his employment, VR’s salary is only $650/month. It leaves no room for untoward expenses, which VR and his family faced when his father contracted kidney disease, eventually passing away in July 2022. VR had to take out loans to afford these expenses, and his mother pawned her jewellery to afford her husband’s medical bills. 

The low wages of migrant workers means that, on top of grief and bereavement, illness and death in the family often push them further into debt and financial precarity. We hope to be able to help VR repay his outstanding debt of $3900 (out of an initial total of $8620) so that he can return home debt-free to get married and start his future family – as he wishes to do at the end of the year – with a peace of mind and without perpetuating this particular aspect of the cycles of poverty onto his future family. 

You can read the details of VR’s case on our fundraiser (on Instagram and on our website), and we would be very grateful if you could share it in your circles! The deadline of the fundraiser is 7 December 2022, and we have a remaining $1348.50 to raise. 

“Safety measures” on transporting migrant workers in lorries
The dangerous, dehumanising and discriminatory nature of transporting migrant workers in lorries has received increasing public attention in the last year (see, for example, Humans Not Cargo on Instagram, this Talking Point episode, and this art exhibition organised by a group of migrant workers). In October 2022, the government introduced a range of “safety measures” that mainly comprise: (i) a mandatory 30-minute rest period for workers before they are allowed to transport other workers on lorries; (ii) assigned “buddies” for these drivers to ensure they are “alert and fit to drive” and (iii) requiring companies to fit rain covers on lorries used to ferry workers, “though they can do this in phases”. 

Much can be said about the inadequacy of these measures, as some NGOs such as HOME have expressed. Without diving into policy arguments or details, we simply wish to share the experience of one worker we supported in August this year, DH. DH was forced by his company to routinely ferry 28 of his fellow workers on a lorry which had a maximum capacity of 21 pax. This was despite DH’s repeated protests that this was dangerous and that he did not want to do it. When the lorry broke down mid-drive one day, DH – like any sensible person – called a tow company, who towed the lorry away. DH’s company promptly fired him, claiming “disobedience”, and paid him $352 of his outstanding $1,400 wages – on the basis of deducting the tow company’s charges from his salary. 

In this particular case, DH was happy to be repatriated and be done with his time in Singapore. The only sticking point was the wage theft. Our team spoke to the employer and managed to recover DH’s rightful wages. Although there was a satisfactory conclusion in this case, it bears noting how casually employers are able engage in wage theft. One of the reasons they can do so is the systemic difficulties that migrant workers face in recovering their unpaid salaries (see e.g. here and here). 

From our point of view, DH’s case is a poignant illustration of how futile laws can be when dealing with a population whose vulnerabilities are multi-pronged and systemic. We leave it to you to conclude if a mandatory rest period and a buddy system would have made any difference to DH, or any worker who finds himself in DH’s position – particularly with the pressures faced in the construction industry following COVID-19.

Change in terms of SSF use, completed fundraisers & new casework

Happy Deepavali / Diwali to all who celebrated last week! We hope that everyone is staying safe in this current phase of the pandemic, and our thoughts go out to our healthcare workers who continue to work under systemically strenuous circumstances. 

This month, we’ve continued to support the fairly complex case of NJ / IM and received several referrals for new cases, which we (i) supported through the SSF, (ii) are preparing listings for, or (iii) both. We also conducted and closed two major fundraisers for, respectively, flood recovery efforts in Bangladesh and MN, an FDW who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer (more on both below). 

Before we give details of each of these cases, we want to draw your attention to an important change in the use of SSF funds. 

Use of SSF funds for administrative expenses

Thus far, individual MMA team members have covered MMA’s administrative expenses (such as domain and server costs) on a personal basis. However, as our work has grown, it has become difficult for us to keep doing this. Beginning in October 2022, we will draw on SSF funds to cover MMA’s administrative costs and will be reimbursing one of our teammates for the costs they have paid out of pocket since we started our work. These costs are very small compared to the amounts disbursed to individual migrant workers. As a ballpark, administrative expenses currently amount to approximately $30 to $50 per month, though this may vary in the future. Donors will receive information on the exact figures in the monthly SSF newsletters we send via email. We have also amended our SSF description on our website (under the “Contribute Now” tab) to reflect this change, in order to properly seek consent from potential new contributors. As transparency in using SSF funds is important to us, do feel free to write to us if you have any concerns or thoughts about this change.

NJ/IM

We’ve covered the case of NJ / IM in the last few newsletters, which you can refer to below for background information. We are still in the process of taking stock of the family’s needs and any medical-related expenses for IM’s care that may be incurred prior to a potential WICA payout, so that we can prepare a fundraiser. This has been complicated as IM’s medical condition is unstable, so the family’s situation evolves quite quickly.

When we last wrote to you in Sept, NJ had been preparing to transfer IM from the Dhaka hospital to one in their hometown. However, IM’s medical condition deteriorated and he is currently still in Dhaka, where he was in the ICU for some time. NJ recently shared with us that she took a loan through her relative in order to pay for IM’s medicines and other needs since his repatriation. We know from previous work that loans such as this tend to place pressure on personal relationships and deepen the financial stress faced by families in predicaments such as NJ’s. 

NJ herself has been in poor health due to the stress of being the sole caregiver to both IM and their son. NJ and her son now live in the hospital, sleeping on the floor next to IM’s bed. 

The funds sent to NJ from the SSF comprises two sets of expenses: (i) the needs of NJ and her son; and (ii) the expenses necessary to transfer IM from the Dhaka hospital to one in their hometown.

We will continue to assess the situation, particularly after IM is transferred to the new hospital should his condition stabilise – and decide next steps in preparing a fundraiser.

NJ and IM’s case illustrates a key difficulty in accessing WICA compensation in cases of severe injury but where the insurance company disputes the claim. The only way to resolve the WICA claim would be for NJ to work with her Singapore lawyers to take the case forward. However, the sheer financial and mental toll of coping with IM’s medical condition has been too overwhelming for NJ to engage meaningfully with this. We are continuing to support her in the ways we can.

SH

SH was a 50-year-old Bangladeshi man who had worked in the construction industry in Singapore for 20 years. When he was referred to us by his medical team at one of Singapore’s public hospitals, he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer, and his prognosis was less than 3 months. He was thus keen to be repatriated as soon as possible to spend his last days with his family while hospitalised in Bangladesh. 

Our team met with SH in the hospital before his repatriation. He was very worried about his upcoming hospitalisation costs back home, as well as the livelihood of his wife and two sons as he is the sole breadwinner in the family. 

The first amount disbursed to SH from the SSF comprises 2.5 months of living expenses for SN’s family – approximately the duration of his prognosis – so that they could spend his last days together without having immediate financial worries. We had planned to put together a fundraiser to tide his family over for a certain period of time before they could find new means of livelihood. 

Unfortunately, SH’s condition rapidly deteriorated upon being repatriated and he passed away the day after arriving in Bangladesh. We understand that SH’s repatriation was delayed due to a decision made by the airlines to discharge him from his original flight. He ultimately flew home on another flight two days after, and managed to spend less than 24 hours with his family before passing away. 

We are continuing to support his family and our team has decided that an SSF disbursement would be more appropriate instead of the initially planned fundraiser, since the need for the family is now urgent. This disbursement will be reflected in next month’s newsletter. 

MA

MA is a 24-year-old Bangladeshi man who works in the construction industry. He lives with sarcoidosis, a rare condition that causes small patches of swollen tissue, called granulomas, to develop in the organs of the body. It often affects the lungs and lymph nodes, and can also affect the skin. This means that MA requires regular lung function tests and chest X-rays. We initially supported MA’s case last year, and he was scheduled for a follow up this year, which took place earlier this month. He wanted to pay for the chest X-ray himself but required support to also afford the lung function test. (It may be worth recalling that, despite their very low salaries, migrant workers pay private rates for medical services even in public hospitals.) The funds sent to MN from the SSF was to pay for this test. 

Completed fundraisers #1: MN 

Thanks to amazing support from our community, this month we raised $7,224.50 for MN, a 44-year-old Filipino domestic worker who was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in April 2022. As explained in our Sept newsletter, we had previously sent MN a total of $1,916.55 from the SSF, for three rounds of chemotherapy. 

We then received a further $7,224.50 in contributions between 26 Sept to 21 Oct, which more than covers the anticipated medical costs of the ten rounds of chemotherapy that MN’s doctors have prescribed. The last donor, Grace, who made a large contribution towards the fundraiser, requested that any amounts above the fundraising target go to MN for any future needs. 

MN has been responding well to the chemotherapy, and we are thankful to all contributors for raising the amount necessary so that MN and her family can focus on her treatment without financial worries. 

Completed fundraisers #2: the climate crisis in Kurigram

In our Sept newsletter, we wrote about our fundraiser  – a collaboration with YouthNet BD – for Kurigram, a district which requires extensive rebuilding following floods in May 2022 that were Bangladesh’s worst in a century. We closed our fundraiser this month with SGD 8,027.39. We are sending this amount to YouthNet BD this coming week, and will continue to update (primarily on Instagram) on the relief and rebuilding projects made possible by these funds. 

While our fundraiser has closed, the issues on which it sought to shed light continue. The climate crisis continues to most devastatingly affect communities that are the least responsible for it. Just a few days ago, another cyclone hit Bangladesh, requiring the evacuation of a million people. Storm Nalgae continues to batter the Philippines. If we – collectively – are to have any hope of addressing the existential threat that the climate crisis poses to our world, we must unlearn the framing of climate change as a politically neutral phenomenon and understand it to be an international justice issue – inextricably intertwined with other justice issues such as cycles of poverty and labour migration. 

 

Thank you for reading this newsletter & for supporting our work, as always. We hope this month treats you all kindly and we look forward to writing again to you very soon.  

Oct 2022

SEPT 2022

Healthcare insecurity, the reality of repatriation, and the intersection of climate justice and migrant justice

This month, much of our casework has involved migrant workers requiring medical care. We also continue to support the relatively complex case of IM / NJ, which has been fairly intense for our team but has provided insights into how various parts of the migrant labour system in Singapore function. Finally, we launched a fundraiser to rebuild a district in Bangladesh that was hit by unprecedented, climate change-induced floods in May 2022.

As mentioned in our August newsletter, MN is a 44-year-old Filipino domestic worker who was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer in April 2022, while on home leave in the Philippines to take care of her mother. We had previously sent her funds from the SSF for the first two cycles of chemotherapy. As MN’s last employer had expressed a desire to re-employ MN whenever she can be back in Singapore, MN considered seeking support from them to partially fund her remaining chemotherapy – with the rest to be raised by an MMA fundraiser. However, MN was eventually hesitant to reach out to her employer, so we are finalising a fundraiser for her outstanding treatment that will go live soon. In the meantime, due to time-sensitivity, we sent her a further funds for her third round of chemotherapy, which she underwent on 14 Sept 2022. We are in active communication with MN, who updates us after each chemo session. Each session takes a lot out of her, but she is in good spirits and she shares that the lump in her breast has shrunk since she started her sessions. There is a long road ahead for MN in her treatment and recovery, but we are confident that with a fundraiser and the support she has been receiving from her family in the Philippines, she will have every chance to overcome her diagnosis.

As mentioned over the last few newsletters, NJ is the wife of a worker, IM, who was severely injured when a bus hit the company-issued bicycle he was riding back to his dormitory after work. He was the sole breadwinner of a family including NJ and their young son, and is now in a permanent coma. 

As you may recall from our previous newsletter, during her time here in July to see her husband in the hospital, NJ engaged a lawyer to try and access any monetary compensation legally due (whether under WICA or otherwise). The case is ongoing. 

On 26 Aug 2022, IM’s employer repatriated him back to Bangladesh. He is currently in a hospital in Dhaka, and will soon be transferred to another one in his and NJ’s hometown (3 hours away from Dhaka). 

Given his condition, IM continues to require intensive caregiving (e.g. feeding, changing diapers, ensuring his tracheostomy tube remains clean). NJ has had to be the sole caregiver this last month, while also caring for their son. The funds sent to her from the SSF comprises:

  • One month’s expenses for NJ and her son, and

  • Funds for her to seek medical attention, as the stress of recent events has caused her to be persistently sick, but she had been unable to afford seeing a doctor. 

We are currently taking stock of NJ’s monthly expenses and any medical-related expenses for IM’s care that may be incurred prior to a potential WICA payout. We then plan to conduct a fundraiser for these costs.

Pending casework and reflections on medical insecurity

ML is a 37 year old Burmese domestic worker, whom we got to know through another domestic worker here. Since her breast cancer surgery 8 years ago, she has recurrent breast lumps every few weeks, and intermittent bilateral arm pain. ML has been using natural remedies to manage her symptoms, but is keen, with our support, to seek medical attention. She is in the process of checking with her employer when she can visit a doctor (since any appointment will be on a weekday), as well as how much of the estimated medical costs her employer would be willing to cover. We will keep you updated. 

Through the cases of both MN (above) and ML, we see the financial and systemic barriers that migrant workers face in accessing healthcare. Even when a case is possibly a work injury, as in IM’s case, it may take time or require an entire legal dispute in order to access the compensation necessary to pay for medical treatment. This insecurity is exacerbated, of course, by the fact that migrant workers pay unsubsidised (i.e. private patient) rates in Singapore’s public hospitals. 

The reality of repatriation 

IM’s repatriation was a learning point for us. Although we were not directly involved in the repatriation, since NJ is now advised by a legal team, NJ inevitably reached out to us for interim support. As we understood it, IM’s repatriation caused NJ a high level of stress as the company decided to have it done on a Friday, which is a weekend in Bangladesh, thus making it difficult to assure that IM could be picked up from the airport in medically necessary transportation and smoothly checked into a hospital. NJ’s requests for more time to find a suitable hospital bed were declined. We are extremely grateful that IM is, ultimately, safely back in Bangladesh and with his family. As we learned during this process, it seems that so long as a migrant worker is certified medically fit to travel by a hospital in Singapore, their employer is entitled to repatriate them as they see fit, without necessarily taking into account factors like whether there are arrangements or facilities prepared on the other side to receive the worker safely. 

Climate justice and migrant justice 

“Climate change” is often framed as a politically neutral phenomenon. However, as catastrophic events in one developing country after another in recent months – Bangladesh, Pakistan, and now Puerto Rico – have shown, “climate change” needs to be re/framed as an international justice issue (as many developing countries and activists have argued all along).  Bangladesh is often described as “ground zero” of climate change. The climate crisis displaces an average of 700,000 people there every year. It is directly linked to cycles of poverty as well as the phenomenon of large-scale labour migration to countries such as Singapore. For us, climate justice and migrant justice are intimately intertwined. We thus collaborated with YouthNet BD to put together a fundraiser for Kurigram, a district which requires extensive rebuilding following floods in May 2022 that were Bangladesh’s worst in a century. Do check out our post on Instagram for more details as to the issues involved, and we would of course be super grateful if you could share and contribute as you see fit. You can also see a fuller version of the post (as well as a geeky reading list!) on our website

Thanks, as always, for journeying with us. 

 

 

Work Injuries, Difficult Recourse, and a Team Update

We hope you’ve been well! It’s hard to believe that 3/4 of the year has gone by again. This month was particularly trying for us because we had to manage concurrent cases while the team was temporarily not at full strength. Some are still ongoing, but we are also pleased to share that others have resolved fairly well.

MT
MT is a 44-year-old Filipino domestic worker who was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer in April 2022. We got to know her through her sister, who is also a domestic worker in Singapore. MT was on home leave in the Philippines when she experienced heavy bleeding, prompting a hospital visit and resulting diagnosis, and she has not been able to return to Singapore for work since. Her doctor has advised about 5 months of chemotherapy in 2 phases, which will cost approximately 366,308 PHP (SGD $9,050) in total. She began therapy last week and we sent her money to cover the first two weeks (i.e. two cycles). We will be fundraising for the remainder very soon.

NJ
As mentioned over the last few newsletters, NJ is the wife of a worker, IM, who was seriously injured in a bus accident on his way home from work. He was travelling on a company-issued bicycle. She was flown in by IM’s company to settle his affairs and take him home (he is in a permanent coma) but while she was here she engaged a lawyer to try and access some monetary claim/compensation (WICA or otherwise) in order to be able to relocate IM to a care facility in Bangladesh. Workers like IM are usually sole breadwinners, so with the complete loss of that income and without a reasonable payout, NJ will not be able to provide the long-term care that IM needs in addition to supporting her family and young son.

The company only arranged for her to be here for 3 days and when she requested an extension to meet with lawyers, be with her husband, and make important decisions, the company refused. In the end they changed the date on her flight at the lawyer’s request but did not want to pay for any other expenses during the extra week she was here. The amount spent on NJ includes cab rides to and from the hospital, cab rides to and from the lawyer’s office, meals, personal necessities like toiletries, the flight change, and baggage (because the company purchased a ticket with no baggage allowance).

Once IM is certified fit to fly he will be repatriated, and will need to be admitted into a hospital or care facility in Dhaka (3 hours from where NJ and her family live). We will also be conducting a fundraiser to help NJ with her daily expenses for the time being and any medical-related expenses incurred prior to a potential payout.


B is a Filipino domestic worker whom our team has known for quite some time. She occasionally helps us with case work, remittances, and refers workers to us from time to time. Recently she found out from her daughter that their utility bill hadn’t been paid for a couple of months; she reached out for help covering the amount because the cost had compounded and she was unable to afford it.

 

Non-Financial Cases

D is a lorry driver from India who got in touch with us because his company had issued him a termination letter after he refused to transport 28 workers on a 21 pax lorry. He was also only paid $352 out of $1,400 salary-in-lieu. Unfortunately, we were not able to stop the termination or negotiate a transfer but one of our team members spoke to his employer and in the end he was paid what he was owed. He is now back in India.

MY is a worker who was asked to perform welding work even though he had not received the training/qualification for this. He went to the MOM with a list of workplace safety infractions his company had committed and was advised to file a TADM case, which is usually for instances of salary dispute. In the end, he decided not to pursue a case in fear of being blacklisted from re-entering Singapore–which while unlikely, remains a real fear for workers when it comes to whistleblowing. He decided to head home to Bangladesh, and will be re-applying to return to Singapore when he finds a new employer.

 

Short Updates on Previous Cases

J, the worker who was being physically & verbally abused by his employer & his son, filed a successful salary dispute claim. He has been compensated and placed under different employment.

JB, the domestic worker who was wrongfully terminated by her employers + subject to exploitative working conditions while she was here, has received the amount we fundraised and is heading to Kuwait for new domestic work.

 

“Proper Channels” and Improper Business Practice

In the last month we have found ourselves having to deal more directly with the MOM, especially in cases where our negotiations with employers or other actors were not possible/fruitful. In almost every instance–including those where workers’ lives were in immediate danger–they were advised by the MOM to open a case with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) and wait for an appointment. TADM mediations are typically for salary dispute cases, and although most workers do have legitimate salary claims because of systemic underpaying and wage theft, it is not necessarily the crux of the issue that requires immediate attention by a legislator or MOM officer.

Besides, even in an event where a worker does wish to file for a salary dispute, it is rare that he receives what he is rightfully owed during TADM sessions. Despite extensive proof of non-payment, the mediation process involves a “middle-ground” or compromise, facilitated by an MOM officer, where employers only end up paying a portion of the sum they are owed. Given that any recourse outside of TADM (such as common law claims in magistrates’ courts) is expensive for workers, they have little choice but to settle and accept a less overt form of wage theft.

We accompanied two workers to the MOM to report physical abuse and an unsafe work environment, and both times they were advised to “go to the MOM website”, leave “feedback”, and file a case with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). Despite being physically present at the MOM, it seemed that no officer of the Ministry was able to escalate the issue or ensure these men were no longer in immediate danger.

From 2013-2021, there was an average of 12,735 workplace injuries (including major, minor, and fatal injuries) per year. This number includes both local and non-local injured persons. (Source: MOM Workplace Safety and Health Reports). 12,735 workplace injuries every year is approximately 1,061 workplace injuries every month, and approximately 37 workplace injuries in a day. This means, for the better part of the last decade, there have been approximately 37 workplace injuries reported to the MOM every single day.

What is the point of safety banners at workplaces that say “you have the right to stop work if it’s unsafe”, if there is no meaningful assistance rendered to workers who exercise this right? Why are they expected to navigate a slow, complex bureaucracy in the face of actual danger to their lives?

AUG 2022

JUL 2022

Unsafe Workplaces, Supporting Families, and Commemorating R’s Life

Eid Mubarak to those who celebrate! We hope that this month has been restful and fulfilling for all of you. July has been a busy month for the team as we have been working on many intensive, complex cases.

A is a Bangladeshi worker who came to Singapore around 7.5 years ago for work. After his first company folded, he was rematched via the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) Programme to a painting company.The men who run this company routinely physically and verbally abuse workers, and also maintain incredibly unsafe worksites. During his 17-day stint with the company, A was forced to climb about 4 to 5 metres above ground to paint without a helmet and a harness. A reported this infraction to the MOM but a timeline for investigation was not provided.

Upon finding out about this report, A was taken to his employer’s home where he was intimidated and slapped twice. A few days later, A was instructed not to return to work as his employers had cancelled his Work Pass, and eventually repatriated him without notice or salary-in-lieu.

A is one of 3 workers we are in touch with who have been abused by these employers and been made to work in unsafe environments. It is important to note that multiple police reports have been made against these employers and multiple appeals/reports have been made to the MOM as well. Despite this, the company remains MOM-accredited for the SCAL scheme.

We sent $2,000 to A in June to cover urgent debt repayments. Many workers agree to loans with high interest rates for lack of better options, and without a steady salary to continue repayment, A’s loans would have ballooned significantly. The $2,000 is intended to help him offset this while he prepares to return to Singapore under new employment (and unfortunately with an additional loan).
 


J was a colleague of A and an employee of the same painting company. Like other workers employed there, he was physically & verbally abused by his employer’s son and lorry driver for a misunderstanding regarding timecards.. J made a police report which received no follow-up action, and we accompanied him to the MOM to request a transfer. Unfortunately, much of decision-making is mired in bureaucracy and J remains in the custody of his abusers. We sent him $100 as emergency funds should he need to urgently leave his dormitory or worksite. We are working on this case with the relevant parties and will also provide updates when we can.



As mentioned in the last newsletter, NJ is the wife of IM, a worker who was seriously injured in a bus accident. We sent her $800 to process a passport and visa for entry into Singapore. IM’s company arranged for her to be here from last Thursday to Saturday (to see her husband and make a decision about his future care) but this was not sufficient to accommodate the time & space she needed to meet with lawyers, be with her husband, and process everything. She requested an extension but the company did not want to pay for her food, transport, and lodging beyond last Saturday. We used $650 from the SSF to cover this cost.

IM’s case has been taken on by a lawyer and we will provide updates when we are able.



JB is a Filipino domestic worker who was subjected to exploitative working conditions and wrongfully terminated by her employer in Oct 2021. We sent her $300 at the time as cash-in-hand because she was repatriated without money. Unfortunately, it has been difficult for JB to find new employment in Singapore. Her husband is a fisherman and does not earn enough to support the family’s needs and her children’s school fees. We sent her $745 to use for 2 months of expenses, and will be conducting a fundraiser to support her with a bit more. Do look out for this on our Instagram and help to share if you can!
 
R’s Passing and Commemorating His Life
We are deeply sorry to share that R passed away early this month. He battled multiple myeloma for close to 2 years, and we are honoured and grateful to have known him in this life. R is survived by his wife, two children, and his brother, Z, whom we have been in touch with since 2020 and who graciously cooks us a meal every Eid.

This was a big loss for our team. R was one of the first few workers we got to know when Migrant Mutual Aid was set up. Like all other migrant workers who come here, he sought to provide for his family and fought very hard to do that. We grieve his passing very deeply, but we also celebrate everything that he was and hope he rests peacefully.

We will not be conducting any further public fundraisers for R, but if you would like us to direct your contribution this month to his family, just write back and let us know.

Family Support for Injured Workers, Healthcare Rights, and Precarious Life

We hope you are enjoying the month of June and that rest has been easy. This month we have been assisting with more cases than usual, some of which we will address below. These cases have revealed quite a bit more to us in terms of migrant worker deaths, the healthcare system, as well as the trappings of debt that many workers are caught in. While the cases are different each time, the problems remain similar because they are inherently systemic, and as we try to support individual workers, we are also trying our hardest to move towards organising for structural changes.

#SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers Fundraiser 
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. 

MH
Recently we were referred to a Bangladeshi worker, MH, via a contact at SG Care. MH was experiencing a lot of pain in his throat and was advised by a doctor to undergo treatment for the pain—this came after multiple rounds of consultation which MH paid for on his own, and he was not reimbursed by his employer at all. In an effort to make a claim for compensation, MH approached the “MOM representative” situated in his dorm. These representatives are Assurance, Care, and Engagement (ACE) Group officers who are a part of a division set up by the MOM during the pandemic in order to “enable dormitories to be more resilient” and “prevent new public health threats”. 
 
These officers are not able or positioned to enforce any legislation; they can only advise employers to comply. So while the officer at MH’s dorm operates under the legitimacy of the MOM umbrella and, according to the MOM, is meant to “provide Care for workers through a comprehensive medical support plan and make health services more accessible to migrant workers”, the officer was ultimately not able to ensure that MH’s employer adequately supported MH’s pressing medical need. MH’s employer had also not paid for most of his medical treatments, and insisted on allowing MH’s work permit to expire and for MH to be sent home. After much resistance and back and forth with MH’s employers, our team managed to successfully negotiate for a transfer letter and an extension to his work permit to allow MH to find another employer in Singapore. We will also be following up with him on his medical needs.
 
Research Projects 

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. 

Recent Thoughts on Labour & Organising 
This month I was both moved and inspired by the Amazon Labour Union (ALU), which beat Amazon’s multi-million dollar efforts to stop employees from unionising. Amazon is America’s second largest private employer and has faced an incredible amount of public scrutiny for abhorrent working conditions, very high injury rates, and ridiculous standards of productivity. This win moved me because it is real, tangible evidence of the power of collective action; of workers coming together, meeting over homemade food in small apartments, and finally experiencing victory in the face of a corporate giant like Amazon (which spent USD $4.3 million on union busting efforts in 2021). Here is an insightful article I read recently about the myth of technology/automation as freeing, and how we need to move away from the capitalist vision of a world “built on the mass extraction of resources required for the continual expansion of profits”—as with Amazon—and instead embrace a politics of degrowth. 
 
Two weeks ago I attended the anti-death penalty protest at Hong Lim Park, organised by the Transformative Justice Collective. Singaporeans are not used to protesting—seeing as it is illegal—so the atmosphere was hesitant and it took a while for the crowd to warm up. But mixed with this air of timidity and grief over the meticulous, calculated taking of life, there was also an incredible camaraderie. For the first time since the pandemic I saw, in flesh, the bodies and faces of people who believe the same things as me; people who are pushing for the softer, kinder world I think about often. 
 
Striking, protesting, and unionising is not foreign to us. Between 8-12 June 1963, nurses at the Singapore General Hospital participated in a strike demanding fair wages and reasonable work conditions. It is because of this that nurses today work 40 hours a week instead of 70. In 1961, at a time when Afro-Asian solidarity was strong, mass protests and rallies were staged across the nation when Patrice Lumumba (the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo) was assassinated. Singapore was a few years away from independence and actively resisting British power. Posters read “send the colonialists to hell” and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of the (still) ruling party PAP encouraged this fervour. 
 
We might feel and be limited in the ways we are allowed to express our resistance and intolerance of dogmatic governance and/or corporate greed, but this does not diminish the power of what we are able to do with what we have. Your active solidarity as contributors of this fund is pivotal to this movement, and I encourage you to explore all the other ways you are comfortable being involved elsewhere. A different world is possible. 

JUN 2022

may 2022

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. 

#SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers Fundraiser 
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. 

JP
Some of you might recall JP,  a 41-year-old Filipino domestic worker who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in March 2021. We covered her initial emergency hysterectomy via the SSF and later fundraised for her chemotherapy. This year she required brachytherapy and tomotherapy, which we used a combination of the SSF and fundraising to support. We are also happy to share that these therapies were successful and she no longer requires chemotherapy. 

JP was repatriated within hours of returning from the hospital where she received her diagnosis, and thus far her employers have not paid a cent towards her cancer treatment. Despite the fact that it is compulsory to purchase insurance for one’s domestic helper, many employers get away with denying them access to medical treatment simply by repatriating them. If they return to their home countries without having completely repaid their agent fee debt (which is often the case), affording medical treatment at home is also impossible. 

E
E is a Filipino domestic worker who reached out for help with dentist fees. She visited a dentist who consults with migrant workers when she was experiencing tooth pain, and found that she needs 4 fillings, 1 denture, and overall scaling. Scaling is not covered by insurance so we will be paying for this using the SSF. E is returning to the Philippines for a holiday in early June and has opted to get dental treatment there, so we will facilitate a transfer with her once we know how much is needed.

This month, after a long time, our team managed to get a meal together at a restaurant and spend an evening catching up. This was possible due to the easing of COVID restrictions in Singapore; apart from the wearing of masks indoors, it is almost hard to tell that we spent two years battling a deadly virus as a country. However, while restrictions on the ‘local community’ may be almost completely lifted, many migrant workers are still trapped in dormitories, requiring exit passes to leave their dormitories for just a few hours each week (in some instances these passes don’t even get approved by their employers or dorm staff). We call on the Ministry of Manpower to do better, and grant migrant workers their freedom of movement. These men and women did not travel across borders to come to Singapore to be prisoners. The same goes for mandatory rest days for domestic helpers, which is slated to kick in at the end of this year. What we need is leadership, oversight, care work, and policy that centres the human rights of workers and that does not render second class the migrant community in Singapore.

 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. 

#SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers Fundraiser 
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. 

MH
Recently we were referred to a Bangladeshi worker, MH, via a contact at SG Care. MH was experiencing a lot of pain in his throat and was advised by a doctor to undergo treatment for the pain—this came after multiple rounds of consultation which MH paid for on his own, and he was not reimbursed by his employer at all. In an effort to make a claim for compensation, MH approached the “MOM representative” situated in his dorm. These representatives are Assurance, Care, and Engagement (ACE) Group officers who are a part of a division set up by the MOM during the pandemic in order to “enable dormitories to be more resilient” and “prevent new public health threats”. 
 
These officers are not able or positioned to enforce any legislation; they can only advise employers to comply. So while the officer at MH’s dorm operates under the legitimacy of the MOM umbrella and, according to the MOM, is meant to “provide Care for workers through a comprehensive medical support plan and make health services more accessible to migrant workers”, the officer was ultimately not able to ensure that MH’s employer adequately supported MH’s pressing medical need. MH’s employer had also not paid for most of his medical treatments, and insisted on allowing MH’s work permit to expire and for MH to be sent home. After much resistance and back and forth with MH’s employers, our team managed to successfully negotiate for a transfer letter and an extension to his work permit to allow MH to find another employer in Singapore. We will also be following up with him on his medical needs.
 
Research Projects 

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. 

Recent Thoughts on Labour & Organising 
This month I was both moved and inspired by the Amazon Labour Union (ALU), which beat Amazon’s multi-million dollar efforts to stop employees from unionising. Amazon is America’s second largest private employer and has faced an incredible amount of public scrutiny for abhorrent working conditions, very high injury rates, and ridiculous standards of productivity. This win moved me because it is real, tangible evidence of the power of collective action; of workers coming together, meeting over homemade food in small apartments, and finally experiencing victory in the face of a corporate giant like Amazon (which spent USD $4.3 million on union busting efforts in 2021). Here is an insightful article I read recently about the myth of technology/automation as freeing, and how we need to move away from the capitalist vision of a world “built on the mass extraction of resources required for the continual expansion of profits”—as with Amazon—and instead embrace a politics of degrowth. 
 
Two weeks ago I attended the anti-death penalty protest at Hong Lim Park, organised by the Transformative Justice Collective. Singaporeans are not used to protesting—seeing as it is illegal—so the atmosphere was hesitant and it took a while for the crowd to warm up. But mixed with this air of timidity and grief over the meticulous, calculated taking of life, there was also an incredible camaraderie. For the first time since the pandemic I saw, in flesh, the bodies and faces of people who believe the same things as me; people who are pushing for the softer, kinder world I think about often. 
 
Striking, protesting, and unionising is not foreign to us. Between 8-12 June 1963, nurses at the Singapore General Hospital participated in a strike demanding fair wages and reasonable work conditions. It is because of this that nurses today work 40 hours a week instead of 70. In 1961, at a time when Afro-Asian solidarity was strong, mass protests and rallies were staged across the nation when Patrice Lumumba (the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo) was assassinated. Singapore was a few years away from independence and actively resisting British power. Posters read “send the colonialists to hell” and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of the (still) ruling party PAP encouraged this fervour. 
 
We might feel and be limited in the ways we are allowed to express our resistance and intolerance of dogmatic governance and/or corporate greed, but this does not diminish the power of what we are able to do with what we have. Your active solidarity as contributors of this fund is pivotal to this movement, and I encourage you to explore all the other ways you are comfortable being involved elsewhere. A different world is possible. 

apr 2022

mar 2022

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. 

Ramadan Fundraiser 
Those of you who’ve been here since the beginning might remember R—a Bangladeshi worker who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2020. By the time R was diagnosed, his cancer had already metastasised to his bones, including his skull. His company insurance did not cover chemotherapy nor a bone marrow transplant. He was not able to afford treatment in Singapore and decided to go home to Bangladesh for treatment. Our first fundraiser was for $8,000 to cover 6 months of this immunosuppressive therapy, and we sent that sum over to R in April 2021. Later that year we conducted our first Zakat-eligible Ramadan fundraiser in collaboration with #SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers for $25,000, which was meant to cover R’s bone marrow transplant post-chemotherapy or settle his last affairs and leave some provision for his family, including his 2-year-old, should the prognosis be poor. 

Unfortunately, R’s stem cell count has been increasing—it was 60% when he left Singapore, dropped to 7% when he was undergoing his first round of chemotherapy (the lower the cell count, the higher the chances of receiving the bone marrow transplant)—and it has now come back up to 60%, which means chemotherapy has not been successful. He used the $25,000 we sent last year to begin a new round of more expensive chemotherapy. After 4 chemo cycles (every 28 days), the transplant will be done immediately while the stem cells are still suppressed so as to prevent the chances of them rising again. This is set to take place in early May 2022, just after Ramadan, and costs about SGD $17,000. 

Amongst our team, there was no doubt that we wanted to do whatever was within our power to make sure R can continue accessing medical care. We recognise that we are positioned to help preserve someone’s life—a life that has been lived in precarity so as to serve the profit-making structures we inhabit. R is Muslim so we think our best chance at raising a large amount in a small window of time is via Zakat-eligible donations again, so do look out for that in a few weeks time. 

Documentary-Making
We’re going to be in a documentary! Some of us on the team are collaborating with a local documentary filmmaker who is working on a piece about activism in this generation. We don’t yet know what it will look like or when it will be ready, but we’ve had a series of interesting conversations and arrived at the realisation that mutual aid is not work (such as an extra-curricular or scheduled activity) inasmuch as it is a complete reorganisation of our social relations and how we live & imagine our lives. 

In her interview about Experiments in Imagining Otherwise (a beautiful book, I highly recommend it), Lola Olufemi talks about Black feminist tradition and cultural production in political organising. 
“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.” 
More than that we also seek to create re-presentations of ourselves that are divorced from the monotone chronology that the ‘single version of history’ constantly perpetuates. There is joy, pain, mistake-making, confusion, hopelessness, hopefulness, and so many other things that constitute the process of living in communion and solidarity with other people. We’re excited to be a part of this work and to share some parts of the work in this documentary. We will share it along when it is released.

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. 

Other Casework Updates
We are very pleased to share that S’s (M13) kidney transplant was successful, increasing his life expectancy significantly. He and his father (kidney donor) are recovering well. A (L01)’s mother—whom we did a 24-hour fundraiser for—also had a successful hysterectomy and is in much better health. 

We spoke briefly about life expectancy in the Global South in a previous newsletter, and both S and A’s cases are testament to how the very structure of global capitalism requires that large regions of the world remain underdeveloped compared to others. Barbara Foley writes that “[perhaps] the most fundamental division of labour throughout the history of class-based societies has been the division of mental from manual labour, driving a wedge between those who perform a society’s brain-work and those who carry out it’s grunt-work.”¹ What do countries like Singapore owe these men and their families—individuals who perform precarious grunt-work, unprotected by labour unions, minimum wage laws, the freedom to change employers, or the insurance they’re meant to have, so that neoliberal economies can thrive on the “paradoxical interdependence between wealth and poverty”? We (a people, a nation) are rich not because we are lucky or we made good economic decisions, but because others are poor.

At the moment we are working on 12 cases that do not require fundraisers yet, or at all. These cases range from workers seeking WICA compensation, legal recourse, and workers who have dental needs. In most of these cases, what workers really need is someone who can be an advocate for them and them alone; someone whom they can trust as a friend, whose only agenda is to help them navigate a system that is expensive, bureaucratic, and oftentimes dehumanising. We operate with consent and anonymity at the forefront of all our work, and ultimately seek to arm workers with tools & knowledge, and support them with whatever course of action they choose.

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). 

Last month, and some months before that, I wrote to you about Nagaenthran, whose sentencing is still unclear and is currently awaiting his next court date on March 1st. On February 9th, the families of Roslan bin Bakar and Pausi bin Jefridin—also low-level drug mules—were informed that they had been scheduled to hang on February 16th. Pausi’s IQ score was assessed to be 67, which is lower than Nagaenthran’s. President Halimah issued a respite order, giving lawyers and community groups extra time to campaign, but the state has since issued February 23rd as Roslan’s execution date. 

It is a known fact that Singapore has investments with the Burmese state, despite its position as one of the largest suppliers of heroin. There are also known ties between Singapore, Burma, and Lo Hsing Han—a drug kingpin and one of Burma’s richest men². Is this why drug mules from low-income backgrounds and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented on death row while no drug kingpins have been known to hang despite Singapore’s harsh stance on drugs? Freire and Donaldo write, “We need to say no to the neoliberal fatalism that we are witnessing at the end of this century, informed by the ethics of the market, an ethics in which a minority makes most profits against the lives of the majority. In other words, those who cannot compete, die”³ . 

Who are the people that lose their lives in this country, and what for? How can the state peddle their commitment to “safety” to justify the killing of vulnerable men who are sucked into the drug trade to make ends meet, while at the very same time peddling the myth of “inherently unsafe work” to justify the deaths of equally vulnerable migrant men?  

It is so terrifying, and it should be. If you can, please engage with the Transformative Justice Collective and subscribe to Kirsten Han’s newsletter, both of whom are doing amazing work on Singapore’s carceral punishment system and the abolishment of the death penalty. 

¹Foley, Barbara. Marxist Literary Criticism Today. Pluto Press, 2019. p 28.
²https://www.wethecitizens.net/fear-spreads-on-too-full-death-row/ 
³ Freire, Paulo and Macedo, Donaldo. Ideology Matters. Boulder CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. pp 25-26.

feb 2022

jan 2022

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. 

SH came to Singapore 3 years ago from Bangladesh and has been at the same company since. He had been showing lower urinary tract symptoms for a year such as dysuria (painful urination) and a urine test by the dorm doctor revealed that he had an infection. He received antibiotics but the pain returned and has become unbearable in the last 2 months. Despite reporting this to his employer they have refused to cover medical costs and recommended he tried drinking more water instead. SH reached out to us for help with finances and navigating the system. We accompanied him for his hospital visits and utilised the SSF to pay for a bladder cystoscopy to check what was causing his dysuria. This procedure was important to rule out any more serious health implications, such as cancer. Thankfully, the scope revealed it was nothing more than an infection and he has been prescribed medicines and is on the road to recovery. Without this scope, SH would have been living not only with pain but with the uncertainty of his own medical status. This cost was supposed to be covered by health insurance (of at least $15,000 SGD) that companies have to buy for each worker by law. However, without enforcement from authorities, lobbying power for workers, and subsidised health insurance for migrant workers, insurance coverage continues to be something that many workers cannot benefit from, despite it being law.

N is a 30 year old Bangladeshi worker who is in need of a tonsillectomy. His employer is refusing to pay for the procedure and has only been reimbursing $30 per hospital visit. N was in such acute pain due to his swollen tonsils that he had to visit the A&E earlier this month, and now has a visit to a specialist in mid-February. We will be supporting his needs if his employer continues to refuse payment. Usually, in cases like these, if the worker wants us to negotiate with their employer, we will. However, we only operate with their consent and a full understanding of the potential risks involved.

As you might recall, JP is the Filipino foreign domestic worker who was repatriated after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cervical Cancer at KK Hospital in April Last year. She successfully underwent a surgery and chemotherapy (which we fundraised for) last year and is now slated to undergo tomotherapy—a type of therapy in which radiation is aimed at a tumor from many different directions. We sent her the funds for this via SSF as she needed to make a downpayment to secure her spot, but will likely be fundraising should she need to continue with brachytherapy. You can read more about her case here and the systemic issues we highlighted here

M is also a Bangladeshi worker who was diagnosed with Hirayama Disease in Dec 2021 and has not been able to work since. At the worksite on 7 Dec he felt a pull on the muscle of his neck which made his fingers numb and curl up. The company doctor administered some medication but when there was no improvement he went to Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital on 12 Dec where he was admitted for multiple tests that lasted 5-6 days. Unfortunately the disease has no cure and he will require treatment for 2-3 years to manage it. 2-3 years of treatment is not financially possible for M to afford so we sent him $3,000 to cover the costs. He is now back in Bangladesh undergoing treatment. 

Finally, J is a worker who was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer at Tan Tock Seng Hospital last year and, like JP, was repatriated. He has been undergoing chemotherapy at a government hospital in Bangladesh but had run out of funds to continue, so we sent him $2,000 to complete the course of the treatment. 

The Structural Character of State Violence
Everytime we meet with a worker whose employer has refused to fulfil their legal obligation of bearing medical costs, or their human obligation of offering a modicum of emotional support, I am reminded of the way that power quietly but undoubtedly aligns in this country. We are now into our third calendar year of the pandemic and it still has not been made clear or certain that migrant workers have the same freedom of movement as the rest of us. We see banners at worksites celebrating ‘2 million accident-free man hours’ in a state that fails to acknowledge how transporting workers to and from these same worksites at the back of lorries is a risky, inhumane gamble on human lives.

Last November I wrote to you about Nagaenthran’s imminent hanging—which, in full absurdist fashion, was postponed so he could recover from COVID before being put to death—and in 3 days he will face the Court once again for an appeal hearing which will determine the outcome of his life. This is despite the fact that over 100,000 people have signed the petition to pardon him. The disposability of lives and (often marginalised brown) bodies is not random, or by accident. It is a part of a larger capitalist machine where for some people, the desperate bid to survive through low-wage labour or high-risk promises is a death sentence punishable by those in warm, wealthy seats of power.

It is daunting to think about, but I hope we manage to spiral outwards and upwards from this damaging individualism sooner rather than later. I believe it was Angela Davis who said that “it is in collectives that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism”; I love this especially because it is the reservoir—the metaphor of water as a body—that returns life and breath into a world where other bodies might have been taken. 

Finally, we have been invited to appear on a live podcast episode as part of this year’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. A representative from our team will be speaking on it so please take a look here if you are interested!

Thank you, as always, for building with us.

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.

Today I leave you with something from her book Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics.
“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.”
Thank you for being a part of us this year. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

dec 2021

nov 2021

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. 

A (M09)
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. 

S (M13)
Early this month we concluded the fundraiser for S, a 29-year-old worker who was diagnosed with end stage renal failure (ESRF)—the same illness that A’s father suffered from. With this money he has been able to book a surgery date for a kidney transplant, which grants him an 80% survival rate compared to dialysis, where survival rates are less than 50%. 

Of the $14,244 that was needed, $5,608.42 was raised via public contributions. We pledged $3,000 to S from the SSF at the beginning, and at the end of the fundraiser deadline we made a top-up of $467.58 to meet the full amount. We’d like to shout out The Chai Baba for conducting 2 separate fundraisers for our SSF—we were able to use the $2,168 they raised and transferred to us for S as well. 

S mentioned that he is awaiting a surgery date in December, and we will be updating you all when he has had his—hopefully successful—surgery.

JB & AL
Both JB and AL are domestic workers who were wrongfully terminated by their employers and were not provided with a notice period or a salary in lieu. They were also both forced to take flights on the same day their employers informed them of their repatriation—leaving little room to prepare or file a complaint with MOM. 

AL was not paid her salary for the 4-month duration she was here and was also not allowed any off-days by her employer. When her Work Permit was canceled, she was shuttled between agencies and not informed of her whereabouts, before finally being dropped off at Changi Airport and threatened to be ‘blacklisted’*. 

Similarly, JB was also not allowed any off days and was severely overworked. She worked from 6AM-11PM daily and some of her chores included washing her employers’ 5 cars each day. She was only compensated $580 monthly for an average of 150 hours of work a week, which amounts to a wage of less than $1 an hour. The absence of a minimum wage law in this country allows employers to work their employees to the bone for an amount that is at their discretion. 

Both JB and AL were terminated without proper reason or the legalities necessary. In JB’s case, she was afraid to speak up about her situation to an MOM officer who came round for a house visit (as part of their new initiative). JB did not disclose the truth about her working conditions during this interview because her colleague, an Indonesian helper, faced severe backlash from their employer when they found out she had ‘complained’. It is not uncommon, and in fact entirely justified, for a worker to obscure the reality of their exploitation when interviewed by officers in their employers home. While MOM senior assistant director of enforcement planning says “If we see the employer’s presence is affecting the domestic worker, we may request for the employer to step aside, or ask the domestic worker to come out of the house so that we can engage with her.”, this fails entirely to consider the fact that the worker ultimately still has to live-in with her employer, where the chances of her being subject to abuse, intimidation, or other kinds of punishment (e.g. withholding of her cellphone, revoking off-days) are very high. As a result, workers often remain silent. 

*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.
Abolition & the Death Penalty
I want to end this month’s letter by talking briefly about Nagaenthrean, a man who was arrested at age 21 for bringing 42.7 grams of heroin into Singapore. He has been on death row for the last 13 years and last month the High Court decided to execute him, informing his family via a letter. His family spent over $10,000 on all the legal & bureaucratic processes required to enter Singapore during a pandemic to see Nagaen for what might be the last time. 

Most people who end up on death row for drug trafficking are low income Brown men, often from Malaysia. Singapore’s death penalty has continued to target singular drug mules like Nagaen and Syed Suhail—men who belong to poor communities that are easily coerced into performing these tasks for money—with little to no action being taken against drug lords and cartels that orchestrate, facilitate, and profit from the system of trafficking. The petition to President Halimah calling for clemency has now reached over 87,000 signatures. It is unclear whether Nagaen’s execution will be stopped, but the point here is that when the state hangs it does so in all our names as citizens. Let them know you don’t consent to state-sanctioned murder. We have power. 

I encourage you to read this op-ed by Kirsten Han and also support the Transformative Justice Collective in any way that you can. 

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

Another reason for hope is an ongoing fundraiser for litigation fees and court expenses for SBS bus drivers who are suing SBS for allegedly underpaying and overworking them for years, in violation of their contracts and the Employment Act. This is another clear example of how power both facilitates labour exploitation and obscures access to justice. More information about how to contribute to this campaign can be found here.
 
Migrant Mutual Aid stands in solidarity with all workers and their right to protest/resist unfair labour practices, workplace abuse, and demand legal recourse. 
 
This month, the first deadline we set for ‘S’ (M13)’s fundraising lapsed on 15th Oct, without meeting the full goal. As a quick reminder: S is a 29-year-old Indian worker suffering from end stage renal failure and is in need of a life-prolonging kidney transplant. We have since extended the deadline till the end of the month, and will be pledging whatever amount remains unfulfilled through the SSF.
 
AK
AK is a 23 year old Bangladeshi worker who was recently diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a rare condition caused by the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) in the body—most commonly the lungs and lymph nodes. There is no cure for sarcoidosis, and most people require long term medication to manage the symptoms. 
 
When his condition was discovered, AK was given a ‘choice’: stay in Singapore and pay for his own treatment, or be repatriated to Bangladesh. Though by law, his employer has bought SGD $15,000 worth of insurance for him, they did not have any intention to support his medical needs. This is despite his monthly medication costing less than $100 per month. The only “larger” costs are the scans that AK has to undergo a few times a year to follow up on his condition, and they do not amount to more than SGD $500-$600 each time. Again, these medical costs are completely covered under insurance, yet there is so much inertia to act and no safeguards protecting workers like AK when employers make these illegal ultimatums. 
 
AK wishes to remain in Singapore to work and make a living, and he reached out to us for help to cover the larger cost of the scans and the medical tests he will have to do in the future. He mentioned that he can afford his own monthly medication; however, the costs of medical tests would be too much for him—especially since healthcare is not subsidized for migrant workers. We agreed to pay for his scans whenever the doctor advises he should undergo them. We will be disbursing money from the SSF for this purpose whenever he needs. 
 
MUN
MUN is a 35 year old Bangladeshi electrician who suffered injuries from two workplace incidents that happened in quick succession. First, MUN suffered a hand ligament injury while operating a drill on the job. Until today, he has not regained full mobility for some of his fingers, and has a doctor’s note stating that 1) this is a workplace injury, and 2) he requires surgery to regain full mobility. Till now, his employers have not signed a ‘Letter of Guarantee’ that their insurance will cover the bill, and as such, MUN has not been able to seek further medical support. 
 
Secondly, a few days after the first injury, he was involved in a workplace altercation with a colleague who pushed him, causing him to fall and hit his head. He lost consciousness, and was taken to a hospital and was in a coma for a few days. Later, it was discovered that he suffered a brain bleed while at the hospital. He made a full recovery and upon his discharge, he was not given a copy of his own medical records. We had to visit the hospital to retrieve his records with him, and it was only then that he discovered he suffered a brain bleed. 
 
As of right now, he is scheduled for follow up scans for his head injury later this month, and has been paying out of pocket for follow up consultations regarding his hand injury. His employers have also been illegally deducting his pay for the instances that the company did pay upfront for his treatment. Using the SSF, we have compensated MUN for SGD $441 worth of medical costs that he bore out of pocket (including employer deductions from his pay), and we are speaking with him to understand how he intends on moving forward with this matter. His employers seem to be in clear breach of MOM regulations pertaining to workplace injuries. 
 
SON
SON is the widow of a 29-year-old Bangladeshi worker in Singapore who unfortunately passed away in Singapore due to sudden liver failure caused by undiagnosed Hepatitis B. He is survived by his wife and his 6-year-old daughter who suffers from a hole in her heart amongst other paediatric issues. In fact, the reason SON’s late husband came to Singapore to work was to save at least SGD $6,000 to put his daughter through a heart operation to repair the hole. He passed away 1.5 years after moving here, in larger debt than he was before. 
 
Following his death, Bangladeshi workers here self-organised to raise the SGD $6,000 needed for his daughter’s surgery, knowing that this was his last wish. His daughter is now recovering from this surgery in Dhaka, where his wife has permanently moved given her daughter’s medical conditions.
 
However, SON still has no source of income moving forward. We have sent her $500 to cover 8 months of her rent, and are in the process of putting together a listing for her to cover the costs of a sewing machine & other essentials to start her own tailoring and garments business. The question of what happens to worker’s families when they pass on in Singapore (due to workplace accidents or otherwise) is a complex but important one. Workers don’t come here as individuals; they come here in place of families and communities that do not have the same life chances we do, simply by virtue of birthplace lottery. The care, support, and solidarity extended cannot just stop when these workers are no longer physically a part of our landscape or social fabric. 
 
More on this in another newsletter, and do keep a look out for this future listing.
 
On Purpose
This month I read some great books, and one of them was Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. It’s a story about class, Yoruba culture, oppression of the working masses etc. but also myth-making, path-finding, and purpose. One of the most powerful lessons that the protagonist, Tarisai, and I learnt from High Priestess Mbali is that people have many gifts, “but our greatest good is the one we can’t contain: compassion, loyalty, softness, fierceness…and when we use our greatest good for something beyond ourselves, that’s our best desire. Our purpose.” 
 
Two things I consciously try to do/remember in this great, big process of re-worlding is to 1) embody the truth that I am neither too small nor too weak to fulfil my purpose, and 2) recognise gifts in everybody—”…the ability to win hearts, or recognise beauty, or weather a storm…”. I hope this offers you some space to begin thinking about your purpose, if you haven’t yet already.
 
Thank you for being here and making it through another long update.

oct 2021

SEPT 2021

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
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 (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.

What really struck us in working on ‘S’s listing are two things. 1) How supportive his colleagues and his employers at his job have been (the latter of which is the exception rather than the rule); and 2) how much ‘S’ has had to be an advocate of his own health. When he was first diagnosed, ‘S’s employers communicated his employee insurance coverage with him, and gave him the options of staying in Singapore to work while  undergoing dialysis three times a week, or returning to India for his treatment. Of course, staying here would have meant that at some point his insurance would run out and he would need to pay for his dialysis and potential surgery.  When ‘S’ made the decision to head home, ‘S’s colleagues, who are also migrant workers, set up an internal fundraiser, which reached a total of  SGD $1,675. The company passed him this money, along with one month’s salary, to support his immediate needs. This is the sort  of solidarity that all employers should extend to their workers, and the fact that this basic humanity is so absent in most instances make these exceptions even more striking, given how affirming and helpful it could be.

‘S’ also has been diligently finding out more about his condition, as well as the best hospitals and transplant facilities. He has also been securing the necessary paperwork form his municipal officials to approve the procedure (given that the donor is a living donor), and even looking for remote jobs he can do online so that he can continue to support his family. Our team has learnt a lot from the perseverance of ‘S’, and we really would like to see him receive this transplant and continue living a full, happy life. 

Love as an Act of Will
Recently I have been reading bell hooks, and I am very compelled by the idea that “love is as love does”. We speak about love a lot in our social & romantic relationships, in religious communion, and even in organising work. hooks writes about the doing beyond the speaking (similar to solidarity, as I mentioned a few newsletters ago)—a willingness to extend one self to nurture the self-actualisation of another. In justice work, I envision this to take the form of active allyship, connecting thought and action, dialectical humanism (the cycle of collective transformation of beliefs), letting go of guilt/shame, and so on. 

A big part of love is also trust. We see and honour the trust you have placed in us to support the migrant community through your contributions. And as always, we are grateful. 

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!).

M (S01)
M is a foreign domestic worker who was referred to us by her employer’s relative. She is 36 years old and has been working in Singapore for 2 years. Sometime in June she was taken advantage of by a scam called ‘Lazada Rebate’ and lost a total of $1,300, which constituted all her savings and some money she had borrowed from friends. While these scams are common, they generally target people with lower digital literacy (such as elderly or people whose first language is not English); so while there is warning information available online, potential targets are fundamentally still kept out of this digital loop. M earns a salary of $575 each month which is consistent with the general average of $18-$19/day that most migrant workers earn. When we got in touch with her in July she only had $100 left and so we made an immediate transfer of $300 via the SSF, intending to fundraise the remaining $1,000. However after a few weeks, the team made a decision to exercise the SSF for the full asking amount because we were strapped with other urgent cases of larger amounts and didn’t want M to have to wait till September. The ability to fulfil needs without having to fundraise is such an integral part of our process, and once again this would not be possible without your contributions. 
 
It is important to think about how scams, and the fact that many migrant workers fall prey to them, are symptomatic of larger issues like 1) low wages that are not commensurate with their labour, and 2) the lack of financial safety nets. This Lazada scam was commissions-based, and presented M with the opportunity to earn extra money that she could potentially send home. With wages as low as $18/day, it is no surprise that many migrant workers try and seek additional employment or gig work—it is the same reason that moonlighting* exists. The solution here is not solely to ramp up digital literacy, although that might help; fair and equitable wages is fundamentally what will prevent individuals like M from putting themselves at known/unknown risk just to make ends meet. 
 
*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. 
H (not listed)
This month, our team struggled with some difficult situations. One example is ‘H’, whom we’d like to talk about briefly. ‘H’ is a 24 year old Bangladeshi worker who was physically abused after his employer found out that he had been moonlighting. Upon speaking to ‘H’ further, he disclosed that his company did not give him any paid work for the first 2 weeks of June, thus compelling him to seek short-term contracts in that time to keep up with his regular loan repayments. When this was found out, his employer, the employer’s son, and their secretary forcibly took him into a room to beat him, including hitting him on the head with a keyboard. After taking his phone away for 3 days and threatening him not to go to the police, ‘H’ went back to work but subsequently fainted while working on-site at a shipyard. By the time he was treated and discharged, his work permit was cancelled without his knowledge and a repatriating flight ticket was booked. He continues to sustain neck pain and a hearing impairment on the side he was hit, but without clear signs of abuse and a bystander eyewitness to the abuse, ‘H’ is left with little options. A police report he filed for the abuse only implicated himself as he had to include his moonlighting, regardless of his reasons to do so. He is currently working with a legal team to get some work injury compensation for his on-site fainting, but the outcome of this is not clear. For now, we are just hoping for the best outcome for ‘H’.
 
On Hopelessness and “Survivor’s Guilt” 
Lately I have been thinking a lot about why we do the work we do—“the point of it all” as some might say. I frequently return to ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’ when I feel lost; it is an essay written by Arundhati Roy (published in Azadi, but also available to read for free here). In it she talks about how necessary it is that we emerge from this different than where we started, which is counter to a lot of state rhetoric about the “return to normal” or “new normal”. For many, the pandemic exposed systemic fissures that existed long before but have since widened and become more visible. This makes the work feel imminent, but also purposeless in a way: how can we possibly close all the gaps? How can we do the work of systems? 
 
We cannot. Because the systems that exist today are not meant to serve everyone. There is a politics that protects an elite few, and it is not just impossible but unnecessary to replicate or shoulder this. Our job is to re-imagine and re-build, together, for everyone. 

“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.”

We are grateful to have you on this journey with us.
 

AUG 2021

JULY 2021

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. 

S (M11)
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.

We have outlined his case with details in this Instagram Post that you can take a look at. 

The $500 we sent him from the SSF has put him in relatively better stead than he was prior and allowed him to return home with some money, but nevertheless does not negate the fact that many migrant workers who suffer from workplace injuries are left significantly poorer—in terms of health/able-bodiedness, finances, and the opportunity to work again (be it in Singapore or back home)—with no compensation for their loss of income or funds to seek rehabilitative care. Coupled with the fact that migrant workers also often cannot save due to repayment of agent fee loans and providing for their families as sole breadwinners, it is not uncommon for many workers to end up in situations like Mr. S. 

A (F02)
‘A’s case is one that was also recently referred to us by HealthServe. ‘A’ had borrowed money from four of his colleagues (who are also Bangladeshi migrant workers), and a couple of friends back home to pay for an operation for his father (which totaled SGD $5,800). His father recently experienced a serious stroke in Bangladesh. ‘A’s situation is especially difficult as he lost his mother in December 2020, and has come to Singapore to work multiple times, despite being only 29 years old. Up till now, he has not been able to repay his agent fee debts—let alone save money. All this stress has taken a toll on his mental health, especially since he also recently lost a friend and fellow migrant worker in Singapore to a workplace accident. To make things even worse, he was a victim of a WhatsApp scam call by someone impersonating to be a police officer, who stole ‘A’s bank ATM card details. 

When we met up to speak with him, he explained that he and his four friends gave up all the money they had to send for his father’s treatment and they did not have enough money to pay their respective food caterers for their monthly meals. Through an SSF disbursement of SGD $1,000, we were able to send enough money for all five men to pay their caterers and have enough meals for the month. We will be fundraising the remaining SGD $4,900 for his father’s surgery on our site soon. ‘A’s situation is especially difficult and his mental health has been severely affected by everything that is happening, from sleepless nights to an inability to focus during his job—which is highly risky. He also does not have freedom of movement as his living quarters are on his worksite itself, and is managed by tight security. We are visiting him as often as we can to see him and reassure him that we are here to help; we also recently helped to get his ATM card re-issued and set up a new iBanking account. Now the biggest hurdle moving forward is repaying his friends the borrowed sum for his father’s surgery. 

P.S. ‘A’s father is recovering well from the surgery in Bangladesh.

JP (M10)
We mentioned JP briefly in our previous newsletter—she is the 41-year old domestic worker who was terminated by her employers after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at KKH. We are happy to share that she began chemotherapy on 5th July 2021 and has 5 sessions to go before her cancer is reassessed. The treatment will cost 168,000 Pesos in total (i.e. SGD $5,000) and we are planning to launch a public fundraiser for this amount as soon as possible. 

It is important to note that the SGD $1,500 we sent to JP from the SSF last month was used for a hysterectomy that her employers denied in Singapore. By the time she returned to the Philippines, served her Quarantine Order, and got an appointment with a specialist, her cancer had significantly progressed. The size of the tumour had grown by 50% since her scan in Singapore. How might her health have improved if she was permitted to receive surgery in Singapore and able to afford it through more holistic insurance coverage, subsidised healthcare, and better wages?

This is going to be a big fundraiser so please help us to share it when it goes live!

‘Into The Forest’ Fundraiser
A spot of good news—we also want to share that the ‘Into The Forest’ workshops were successfully conducted by Leanna and Radha over the weekend! The workshops raised $1,000 SGD in total before material costs, which enables us to continue supporting workers like S, A, JP, and more in a sustainable manner. 

We are excited to collaborate with more artists and individuals who are aligned with our vision of world-building, as well as to eventually meet as many of you as possible through these sessions. Feel free to let us know if you have any ideas! You are an important part of our process. 

The Iterative Process of World-Building
One of the tenets of mutual aid, and a central guiding force of our practice, is that solidarity does not equal charity. Solidarity is a ‘doing’ word, and all of you here engage with it in terms of income/wealth redistribution (and possibly more outside of Migrant Mutual Aid!) to build an equitable world. In many ways solidarity is also intangible, and manifests as love, especially for people & communities that have been socially & systemically othered. Here is a small excerpt from Adrienne Maree Brown that we would like to leave you with:
“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.” 
We all have a place in this iterative process, and we are grateful for your solidarity. 

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.

On the COVID India Fundraiser

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. 

About JP’s (M10) Case

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!

About Mr M’s Case
Mr M is a 34-year old Indian worker who had been terminated from his company and had his S Pass cancelled without notice, hadn’t received pay for the month of May, was asked by his company to back pay approximately SGD $1,700 for the days of work he missed (after termination), and was trying to find new employment before his Visit Pass expired. Mr M filed a salary dispute claim with the MOM, but we eventually assisted him with a direct mediation with his employers (with lots of guidance from folks at TWC2) and thankfully the company agreed to pay him what he was owed, drop the demand for back payment, and pay for his flight ticket home. We are still waiting on the possibility of a pass extension so he can seek new employment and will be writing about this case in full to highlight the flaws in the system that are not unique to Mr. M’s case. Do look out for that on our website and Instagram page. 
 
In a conversation with Mr. M earlier this week, he  asked one of our teammates why we were helping him. As we spoke about our work and how we have been trying to support migrant workers, both parties came to a realisation: Mr. M, who has worked in Singapore for 11 years, is receiving more support from people he has known for less than 11 days. This moment was more bitter than sweet. But one thing we know is that our work is slowly building communities of support. Mr. M was actually referred to us by someone whom we asked for help for C (M08). As more workers outside our existing network find out about our work, our SSF fund will be all the more important as we might come across unseen, urgent needs. 
 
On the Power of Community
We want to end this month’s update with a message of hope and an important reminder that we are more powerful than systems. Systems depend on inertia, on fatiguing us, on our complicity, and our silence. The same system that keeps healthcare unsubsidised for workers like JP and emboldens companies like Mr. M’s employers to withhold his salary and terminate his contract without notice will not change on its own. We need to keep organising towards tangible changes in the material conditions of all workers in Singapore. In this spirit, we want to share a fundraiser to raise money for the legal fees for 13 drivers who are suing SBS Transit for allegedly unfair work practices e.g. long hours, unpaid OT. Please consider supporting their cause too. You may learn more about the fundraiser here: https://gogetfunding.com/legal-fees-for-bus-driver-suit/
 
We appreciate you for making it to the end of this long SSF update and, as always, thank you for your solidarity!

JUNE 2021

may 2021

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. 

As of right now, A’s father is still in critical condition. Based on our last conversation with A, we are looking to raise $3,000 to cover hospitalisation, another fistula operation, and emergency dialysis for A’s dad as well as outstanding debt and family needs. We are fundraising for this amount here (& on our website) and will continue to disburse the SSF to other workers with urgent needs as well.
 
How we manage the Standing Solidarity Fund
The SSF is reserved for urgent needs, to supplement our listings, and also to fund miscellaneous small needs that are time-sensitive e.g. food insecurity. We retain a set sum of money in the SSF as a safety net—we do not touch this amount unless there is an emergency situation (usually medical). Anything above this amount will be redistributed to active listings. Special shoutout here to our monthly contributors who make sure this solidarity fund is replenished every month, allowing us to support folks in a sustainable manner. 
 
What else are we up to?
We recently concluded a Zakat-Eligible Ramadan fundraiser with #SGMuslims4MigrantWorkers, which raised $25,000 in total for R—one of the first few workers we organised for. R was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and subsequently repatriated by his employer. Earlier this year we raised $8,000 for his chemotherapy and the new amount of $25,000 will allow him to receive potentially life-prolonging treatment. In the event that a bone marrow transplant is unsuccessful or his prognosis is poor, the money will go towards settling his last affairs and providing his family with some financial stability in light of the income loss. 
 
This month of May we are also fundraising for 2 hyperlocal mutual aid organisations in India who are doing on the ground work during this devastating second wave of COVID-19. Our goal is $30,000 ($15,000 for each organisation) and at the moment we are 31% of the way there. Please help to spread the word! 
 
Thank you again for your solidarity and to all who celebrate—Eid Mubarak.