MOM: Migrant worker-activist-poet 'overstayed welcome', work pass not renewed

The Ministry of Manpower said some of his public posts were "misleading, false or deliberately provocative".

Low Jia Ying | June 23, 2022, 02:18 PM

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Zakir Hossain, a long-time migrant worker in Singapore, and who often advocated for migrant worker rights, will not have his work pass renewed, after the Controller of Work Passes deemed it "ineligible for renewal".

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday (Jun. 22) explained in a statement that some of Zakir's public writing was "misleading, false or deliberately provocative" and that he had "overstayed his welcome".

Worked in Singapore for 19 years

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Zakir said he had been working in Singapore for about 19 years.

He said he had worked as the quality assurance and quality controller-in-charge for many well-known projects, such as Jewel Changi and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

In his time here, Zakir also founded Migrant Writers Singapore and One Bag, One Book, an initiative that encouraged migrant workers in Singapore to read more.

He expressed confusion over the non-renewal of his work pass, and said his time in Singapore had come to an "abrupt end".

He claimed that he was initially notified by his former company that the work permit renewal system reflected that he had an "adverse record with a government agency".

However, MOM later explained to Zakir that the "adverse record" categorisation was an "administrative error", and that the reason for the non-renewal of his work pass should have just been "ineligible", according to Zakir.

Work pass renewed "many times" despite activism: MOM

MOM said in its statement that it takes into account "various factors" in assessing an applicant's suitability to work in Singapore and for work passes to be renewed.

"Non-residents do not have an automatic right to work in Singapore," added the ministry.

MOM said Zakir had appealed for the non-renewal of his work pass to be reconsidered, while his employer did not make an appeal.

Zakir's appeal was considered and he was later informed that it was unsuccessful, said MOM.

MOM said his work pass was renewed many times "despite his activism and writings".

It said, however, that it draws the line when "public posts are misleading, false or deliberately provocative".

Westlite Tukang post

MOM specifically cited one of Zakir's posts on Oct. 16, 2021, and said he had labelled migrant workers in Singapore as "work slaves", and dormitories as "work camps".

According to MOM, his post also alleged that soldiers and armoured vehicles had surrounded the Westlite Tukang dormitory.

MOM claimed his post was a "false characterisation" of what happened.

The ministry said "there were no soldiers, let alone armoured vehicles".

They also noted that Zakir had signed off his post as from the "workers of Westlite Tukang", though he had never lived there.

MOM said his "false statements could have incited migrant workers at Westlite Tukang and elsewhere, inflamed their emotions and possibly caused incidents of public disorder".

"Fortunately, the real residents of Westlite Tukang saw that MOM, the employer and the dorm operation were serious about addressing their problems and calmed down," added the ministry.

Zakir said in Wednesday's Facebook post that since he moved here in 2003, Singapore had become his "home away from home", and he often used his free time to give back to the community.

These activities saw him organise numerous community activities for migrant workers, attend panel discussions on migrant issues, and publish poems on the plight of migrant workers in Singapore during the pandemic.

"I spoke up because I believe that conditions for migrant workers can improve in Singapore. I love the country and I wanted Singapore to be the example for other countries to follow," he added in his post.

Zakir had "overstayed welcome", went home on Jun. 8

MOM said the ability for a foreigner to work in Singapore "is not an entitlement".

The ministry added:

"Mr Zakir has been permitted to work in Singapore for a long time, though he was a long-time activist. His work pass has since expired.

He cannot prolong his stay when he no longer has a job in Singapore.

He has over-stayed his welcome."

According to The Straits Times, Zakir had left Singapore for his home in Bangladesh on Jun. 8.

Top photo via Amrakajona Zakir/Facebook and Ministry of Manpower/Facebook