Migrant workers paid $5 an hour to queue for bak kwa

Migrant workers paid $5 an hour to queue for bak kwa
PHOTO: The Business Times

People go crazy for barbecue pork this time of year in Singapore, with lines typically forming round the block for the grilled treat.

This year however, people are buzzing about the lines of foreign workers - most, if not all in blue-collar jobs - standing in line for their employers, at just S$5 ($3.50) an hour.

Some have deemed this exploitation, while others say it's fair game.

Some of these workers told news outlet Today that they were happy to earn extra cash.

"I slept three hours (last night)," said Pandiyaraj, a sewer maintenance worker, who was back in line for a second day.

The 28-year-old started queueing at 5:15am together with his three colleagues for his supervisor, and bought 50kg worth of the pork.

For this, he earned S$5 (US$3.50) an hour, or S$30 over two days. He also received half a day off.

But one migrant worker welfare group in Singapore says it is an exploitation of cheap labour and demeans workers.

Many of Singapore's foreign workers typically come from parts of South Asia such as southern India and Bangladesh, and are here on a work visa.

And that's the grey area. Strictly speaking, they can only perform work in the occupation stated on their Work Permit cards - which wouldn't be standing in line for barbecue pork.

"Foreign workers can hardly say no to their bosses because their employment is dependent on the goodwill of their employers," Jolovan Wham of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics pointed out.

But many on social media disagreed with Wham, saying that the workers might be in need of spare cash. "As long as the workers are willing to earn that extra money, why not? To us [the money] is nothing but [to] the workers it's extra bonus," said one commenter on Facebook.

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