‘They treat me like family’: Migrant workers share their experiences of working in S'pore

These are the ties that bind.

| Candice Cai | Sponsored | December 03, 2022, 09:56 AM

When Rona Grace Soco told her employer Chin Sau Yong that she “didn’t want to be a maid forever”, the first reaction from Chin wasn’t one of annoyance.

In fact, he began helping Soco chart out a path so that the migrant domestic worker could develop skills in areas that would benefit her in future – such as financial and computer literacy.

He even paid her subsidised course fees at Aidha, a non-profit organisation, from his own pocket.

“He kept encouraging me. He said that if I want to improve myself, then I’d better do it right now,” said Soco, 36.

The mother-of-two is the sole breadwinner for her family back in the Philippines.

This show of support for her personal development is not the only thing that Soco, a high school graduate, is grateful for.

Having been treated poorly by a previous employer, it was a breath of fresh air when Soco first entered the Chin household.

After all, there is a strong sense of mutual trust and respect between Soco and Chin’s family.

Despite what they have done for her, Chin chooses to downplay the effort they have made for Soco these six and a half years: “My wife and I have never thought that we were doing anything special, because she's a part of the family.”

“You hear some people say that helpers cannot have access to their mobile phone, they cannot have days off for the first few months — I find that incredibly difficult to do,” shared Chin, who works as a commercial pilot.

“It’s denying someone their basic needs.”

Soco during her course in Aidha (left) and painting by Soco. Image courtesy of Rona Grace Soco

Even when Soco’s own family members were suddenly taken ill, she remained a trusted and reliable help for the Chin family, which speaks volume of her dedication and commitment to doing her work well.

Soco in turn is grateful for the respect that the Chin family — including their two young children — have for her.

“They are very good to me, they really treat me like their own family,” said Soco, who has told her employers that she intends to search for better work opportunities overseas once her current contract expires.

Tearing up, Soco expressed: “Maybe if I was single and my parents are ok, I would choose to stay.

In an exchange with Chin, she added: “My physical body may not be here but in my mind and heart you all will always be there. I will love and miss you all.”

‘He’s like a father to me’

Like many others before him, 28-year-old Sellaiya Bharathidhasan or Bharathi as he prefers to be known, came to Singapore close to four years ago for a better life and to provide financial support for his family.

Bharathi at work. Image credit: One More Turn

Having heard so much about life in Singapore from his relatives and friends, Bharathi wanted to experience it for himself.

“I heard it’s a nice place to work, to live and to explore. And I thought I could learn more here than in India,” said the Tamil Nadu native.

Bharathi, who’s tasked with administrative duties at Yong Cheong Marine & Engineering, shared how his boss, Teng Soon Hoe, is extremely caring towards him and other workers by regularly providing them with fruits and snacks, especially during the early days of the pandemic.

Bharathi with his boss, Teng Soon Hoe. Image credit: One More Turn

Teng explained: “The workers stay back past 7pm whenever they have to work overtime, where would they have time to buy food?”

Food was the main problem Bharathi faced when he first came to Singapore due to the differences in taste, “but after a while I got used to it,” he shared.

Bharathi has also gotten accustomed to life here, even organising an environment clean-up event for about 20 migrant workers and officers from the Ministry of Manpower this year.

Bharathi receiving a certificate of participation during the environment clean-up event. Image credit: Ministry of Manpower

The sense of achievement from the experience was evident.

Shared Bharathi: “I want to be an example for migrant workers… to show that migrant workers can also be responsible people in Singapore.

Indeed, Teng describes Bharathi as a responsible and hard worker who’d never given him any problems in his three and a half years at the company.

According to Bharathi, the employer-employee relationship that they share is also special.

For one thing, Teng had offered Bharathi some fatherly advice — to keep his emotions in check and not to mix with bad company.

Said Teng: “I’ll tell him not to quarrel with others and try to control his emotions.”

It is obvious that Teng plays an important role in his life.

Shared Bharathi sincerely: “I’m very thankful to my boss for being a part of my life and offering me a job.

“I have a separate place in my heart [for Teng]. He’s like a father to me.”

‘When I arrive at Changi Airport, I feel as though I’ve reached home’

Just like Bharathi, Fujian-born Jimmy Guan, 39, had heard about Singapore being a safe country and the opportunities it presented from the many relatives that he has here.

Guan is a housekeeping manager at ibis on Bencoolen. Image credit: One More Turn

Coming to Singapore in 2007, his lack of proficiency in the English language seemed to be the main impediment.

“It was difficult for me to communicate with non-Mandarin speaking staff as well as guests from overseas,” said Guan, who began working as a room attendant at a hotel here.

The motivated self-starter sought to improve his English by watching subtitled Chinese dramas on TV and going for English classes organised by his current employer, ibis on Bencoolen, after work.

Not only did Guan strive to improve his language and communication skills, he also wanted to upgrade himself. He enrolled in a part-time graduate diploma in tourism course, paid for out of his own pocket.

In 2011, he was promoted to the role of supervisor.

“I wanted to further improve myself for my career. Normally companies will send their employees for WSQ courses, but I used my own savings, no subsidies,” said Guan.

He is thankful that his boss at ibis on Bencoolen, David Lane, was supportive in allowing him to take some time away for his studies.

Guan with his boss, David Lane, at ibis on Bencoolen. Image credit: Jimmy Guan

“My company supported me all the way, that’s how I can work here for 13 years,” Guan expressed.

He added, “David is always guiding me and mentoring me for my career progression. Every time I am uncertain, I can count on him, even for personal advice.”

The respect is mutual.

Lane shared with Mothership that Guan is his trusted “go-to person” whenever something has to be done within his area of expertise.

“I also like the way his team respects him and supports him, which is a good sign of a leader.”

With his hectic schedule, it’s a wonder that Guan manages to find time to do volunteer work, seeing it as a more enjoyable and meaningful way to spend his days off.

Guan is a regular blood donor and volunteer with the Singapore Red Cross.

He’d also joined the Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group, a division under the Ministry of Manpower, as a FACE volunteer to engage with the migrant worker population here.

Guan doing food distribution to Muslim migrant workers during Ramadan 2022. Image Credit: Jimmy Guan

His rationale behind volunteering is similar to why he is passionate about the hotel industry, “I just love helping people,” said Guan, who has risen steadily through the ranks over the years to become housekeeping manager at ibis on Bencoolen.

Guan is a blood donor and volunteers regularly. Image credit: Jimmy Guan

To Guan, who’s been working here for 15 years, Singapore provides him with a sense of belonging.

“When I arrive at Changi Airport [after visiting family in China], I feel as though I’ve reached home.”

On what he appreciates about Singapore, Guan shared: “I like the people here and how everyone has equal opportunity.”

One thing which he has some regrets about, however, is not being able to spend enough time with his two children aged 11 and six who are in China and currently being taken care of by his aged parents and sister.

The last time he’d seen his kids in the flesh was before the pandemic, in 2019.

To keep in touch, he regularly video calls them.

Shared Guan wistfully: “Since they were born I’ve not spent much time with them, but thanks to technology at least they don’t feel that we are strangers.”

But during festive and special occasions such as Father’s Day, Guan admits to feeling a tinge of sadness.

His long-term plan, however, is to eventually bring his children over to Singapore so that the family can be reunited.

His wife, whom he met and married in China, is also in Singapore and working as a room attendant at a hotel in Orchard.

“My goal is for all of us to settle down here,” he expressed determinedly.

Celebrate International Migrants Day 2022 and stand to win a S$50 CapitaLand voucher

Some of you may have close relationships with migrant workers or migrant domestic workers as friends or colleagues.

This International Migrants Day, show how appreciative you are by sharing a video featuring:

  • A simple message of appreciation to them
  • You surprising them
  • You and them taking part in an activity together

Click here for more details on the video contest by the Ministry of Manpower and submit your clip at https://go.gov.sg/imdcontest22.

This contest is open from now till Dec. 8 and 12 videos will be selected and posted on the ACE Group Facebook Page on Dec. 10.

The judges will select six winning videos based on content and popularity (videos will be up for voting from Dec 10 to 15).

Winners will be announced on Dec. 18.

Terms and conditions apply.

This is a sponsored article by the Ministry of Manpower.

Top image: Soco (centre, in green) with the Chin family. Image courtesy of Chin Sau Yong.