Asian migrant workers face abuse, debt from recession

Tue Feb 3, 2009 10:22am EST
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By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Ship welder Mohammad Ali came to Singapore to earn money to support his family in Bangladesh. Little did he know that an economic storm brewing continents away would kill his humble dream and leave him incarcerated in a cage.

After taking out almost $6,000 in loans to pay employment agency fees to work in Singapore, Ali was soon laid off when the economy soured and shipyard work dried up.

What happened to him next was unimaginable.

His employer locked him and 100 other workers in an outdoor cage to prevent them from complaining to the authorities about their unpaid salaries.

Come rain or shine, Ali was trapped like an animal for the next three months. His ordeal ended in September when a local advocacy group, Transient Workers Count Too, found out and told Singapore's labor ministry.

Ali, who is now living at a metro station and surviving on one free meal a day, is eager to go home.

"Come to Singapore is no good, I want to go back to Bangladesh. There got mother, father, sister, brother to help me. Here I have no one," Ali said in broken English.

Singapore's construction, shipyard and manufacturing industries were once red hot, hiring almost 800,000 migrants in 2007. But as the economy slid into recession, demand for labor dived and major projects were canceled or delayed.   Continued...

<p>Migrant workers employed as labourers at a construction site rest during lunchtime in Singapore in this January 13, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files</p>