Transient workers, better known as foreign workers, are people who literally build Singapore with their bare hands.
Working in the shipyard, building public housing, digging up roads and filling them up again, welding, cutting, mixing and lifting — virtually anything that requires a smidgen of manual labour in Singapore that locals actively avoid doing, will come under their purview.
But it wouldn't have occurred to you — at least not naturally — that a transient worker who sweats blood and tears out in the open facing the elements day in, day out, six days a week on average, earns between S$15 and S$20 a day, according to accounts shared by local migrant worker welfare organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).
And they clock overtime hours because that's about the only way they can make enough to get by in Singapore and send remittance home.
This results in, on average, some foreign workers putting in as many as 100 hours or more of overtime a month -- that goes against labour laws -- where they receive as little as S$2 per additional hour worked.
And that's not all -- besides barely making between S$500 and S$850 a month, depending on sector, TWC2 says transient workers have their pay deducted for minor oversights and errors, such as not having work goggles on or not reporting punctually for work.
All of which adds up.
As if that's not enough, TWC2 also says some of them even have to fork out an additional S$100-plus a month for boarding, besides repaying their placement fee between S$2,000 and S$8,000 to work in Singapore.
Now read this:
Hence, the reminder: Foreign workers have rights, too. And why some in Singapore are fighting for them on their behalf.
It's also a convincing argument in favour of the introduction of a "living wage" -- the amount a person needs to earn in order to afford their basic needs.
It's not minimum wage, but it takes into account, for instance, what people earn on average as opposed to what their living wage levels are.
A "living wage" could also factor in the value of the work that is being done -- for instance, if a burger-flipper can earn S$5 an hour in a relatively safe environment, what is the appropriate value for the work of a man laying concrete for the BTO project you're bidding for?
How much should a man building an apartment make?
Certainly not S$2 an hour.