Journal I SG Migrant Workers Project

Dec. 15th, 2012 Saturday Through a Chinese church in Singapore, I got the contact information of a migrant worker. I called him on Thursday, Dec. 13th and explained to him my interest in researching migrant workers’ health and their life experiences in China. Besides, I also told him that the director of my research institute, CARE, also would like to talk with him. Since the worker and I go to the same church and he already knows me, he said that he would be able to talk with the director and me on 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15th, 2012, when he would be meeting with his Bible study (cell) group at the church. He said that he would be able to talk with us for a few minutes. On Saturday afternoon, he called me to suggest a change of the time. He said that since the Bible study starts at 7:30 p.m., it would make more sense to start on 6:30 p.m. I emailed Dutta, the director of CARE, and he replied to me that he would not be able to make it. So, I went alone. This Chinese church is a small one in a sea of Singapore churches. It has two Sunday services, the morning one starts at 9:30 am and the evening one starts at 6:30 p.m. As I learned later, since almost all the migrant workers work on Sundays, the only option for them to attend the Sunday service is in the evening. The church has about one hundred members of Chinese international students, company workers, a few people who have their own businesses, and several migrant workers who work in bus companies and construction in Singapore. None of the migrant workers have their family members with them in Singapore. We started our conversation at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. I briefly introduced to the participant the project and explained to him the research protocol and PIS. He gave me his consent in participating in the interview and told me that I did not have to pay him. I expressed my thanks to his kind refusal of the payment as a fellow church goer and explained that the project requires 10 SG dollars to be reimbursed to every participant and I would appreciate it if he could sign and accept the money, which he later did. He was not comfortable with the audio recording. So, the following is a summary of what he shared with me: (I refers to the migrant worker himself.) When I think of health, I mainly think of being free from diseases and worksite accidents. Actually, according to my experiences of both working in Chinese construction sites and Singapore construction sites, each side for more than 10 years, I would say that Singapore government does a better job than Chinese government in accidents management. Unless workers do not pay attention to the rules, there are few cases in which the bosses will break the rules. If there is a safety breach, workers can refuse to work and even report the bosses to MOM (However, when I asked him if he knows how to report, he does not know the procedures, telephone, and the languages to use). In the sites where I worked, there are always personnel in charge of work safety. The safety net has to reach 1.2 meters. The only unsafe factors might be that we are not supposed to throw things down to the ground level except through a designated trash disposal tunnel. When there is an illness, we usually have our medicine brought with us from China. So, for cold and small diseases, we do not bother to go to the doctors. We can have our own medicine. But if there is serious diseases and injuries, the companies have issuance for us. With the sick leave proof issued by a medical doctor, we can have the treatment (He then told me that he had not gone to a doctor in these ten years of working in Singapore). (I then asked him to describe the everyday life to me so that I have a clearer framework about his daily routine:) “We work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. That is the normal work hour. During that period, we have two breaks: one from 10 to 10:15 am and the other from 3 to 3:15 p.m. So, altogether, we will have 8 hours and a half to work and half an hour of break altogether. When the work load is heavy, then, we will be required to do extra time, from 5 to 10 p.m., for this period, my company is good because it gives me 1.5 times of normal hour payment. From Saturday afternoon to Sunday, supposed to be free time for us, if the boss wants us to work, the company will pay us twice the normal hour pay.” Usually, we pay the recruiting agent about 20,000 yuan for starting working in Singapore for one year. After that, we will be assigned to a boss. The boss may have many projects going on at the same time, so, it is not uncommon for us to change our working from one place to the next at very short notice. During the one year contract, it is illegal to change the company. But there are workers who indeed change companies because they are not paid well in their original companies. If they do so, they will become sangong (which can be literally translated as “separated workers,” or “unorganized workers”), as compared with us gongsigong “company workers,” or “contracted workers.” Sangong will be responsible for their own health and also finding works on their own. Of course they are illegal, and the Singapore government knows that. But if the government enforces its rules strictly, no work can be done on time. So, the government does not really care about whether Sangong is illegal. So, many times, you actually see these Sangong fires boss and finds another job if they are unsatisfied with the pay. We, as company workers, will be paid 6-7 SG$/hour with my work experiences and because I am in a good company. The average will be about 5-6$/hour. The newcomers are usually paid around 5$/hour. If you are with a SG boss, that boss is more likely on a higher lever among subcontractors, then, there is more room for you to get a higher payment. With Chinese permanent residents bosses, they usually are the third or even fourth level subcontractors, so, they might reduce workers’ payments or even refuse to give them their pay (I need to ask him more about the conditions/rationales that such bosses use to not pay their workers). There are also other safety procedures: We have work safety card and work safety training. Only after one completes the training can the work safety card be issued to him. And only with the card can one start to work. The one-day course is called “Construction Safety Orientation Course of Workers”. The teaching happens in the morning and exam in the afternoon and then the cards can be issued to the workers. The cards can work for either for two years or four years. (I asked him a follow-up question on whether an one-day course too short for the complex construction work safety issues). He added by saying that “all the workers have been working in China on construction for years, so we know all about these. The course is just to get the cards to be able to work.” Apart from the card, our worksite also has everyday meeting about the safety issues: PPE protocols about using safety caps and ear plugs, etc. (He also mentioned that Chinese construction workers are paid well because they “work hard and can adapt to different working environments quickly.” In comparison, he said that Malay, Indian, and other workers are paid 18 SGD for eight hours, with less than 3 SGD/hour. 20 to 22 SGD per eight hours will be considered good pay for these workers, whom he referred to as “black people” since they usually have darker skins than Chinese workers). (I asked him to tell me more about their living conditions. He evaded the question by saying that his living condition is much better than the so-called “Migrant Workers’ Camp,” or kegongying in Chinese, where 10 to 12 migrant workers can pack into one small room. He said that his company gives him 200 SGD for him as the compensation for rent and about 60 SGD for his monthly transportation fee. He mentioned that he needed to pay for his food). (I was a bit concerned that he did not actually cover much about health per se. However, I also considered that how health as freedom from accidents and diseases are connected to all these worksites and living spaces procedures and everyday life patterns. So I asked him if he missed his family and when he will go back home again and for the work and long working hour, whether he can bear the workload. He told me:) One thing is that once you are over 40, you feel that your body is going downhill. But I have our church. God is bigger than the world. I spend Sunday afternoon with brothers and sisters in the church. It really keeps loneliness and homesickness away from me. My daughter is in her second year at high school. She will be in a very good university in Shanghai next year with her constant excellent grades. I can remit money to my wife and my daughter. This is a comfort for me. When I call home, my daughter tells me that Dad, you need to spend more on you. eat better food. This is real comfort. I usually call them since with the phone card, one min calling from me will be only about 40 RMB cents. If they have to call me, then, they spend 4 RMB yuan/min for international call. When I come back home again, I will have my teeth fixed. (He pointed with his index finger to his speaking mouth with a smile. There, his two big upper front teeth are gone, showing a face that looks older than his age of 42 years old). We finished off our conversation by talking about small things of the church and several other church members had come. He pointed to another one and told me that he was also a construction worker. The new comer shook hands with me, with obvious caution and tension of sensing me as somewhat different. The first worker introduced me as a researcher doing research on construction workers. I followed his brief introduction with a more detailed one and asked the new comer if he could help me with my research. So, next is the New Comer’s Story.

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