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Foreign workers must undergo settling-in programme after mid-2018

ALL NEWLY arrived non-Malaysian work permit holders in Singapore will have to undergo a settling-in programe (SIP) that will be rolled out in phases from the second half of 2018, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced on Sunday.

The enlarged SIP, which is already mandatory for first-time foreign domestic workers, will initially be rolled out to workers in the construction sector before being introduced for other sectors.

About 2,000 foreign workers in the construction sector are expected to attend the SIP each month, MOM said.

Employers will bear the fees for the one-day programme, which seeks to educate first-time foreign workers about employment regulations, Singapore laws and social norms, as well as avenues for help.

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The decision to make the SIP compulsory, which Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say announced at a foreign worker-themed appreciation dinner on Sunday, came after a 2016 pilot programme for almost 1,900 workers.

According to post-course surveys, more than 99 per cent of participants said they were more aware of rights and responsibilities, were more confident of working and living in Singapore, and found the course beneficial, MOM said.

More than 99 per cent of participants also said they would approach MOM for help and believed that MOM would be able to help them. More than 98 per cent could recall MOM's hotline correctly.

Evaluation of before-and-after answers also suggested that course participants improved their understanding of their rights, such as whether their passports may be kept by their employers, or agency fees may be refunded if contracts are terminated.

In a statement provided through MOM, Straits Construction Singapore executive director Kenneth Loo said: "We sent 26 foreign workers to the pilot programme and we saw positive behaviour in the workers. As an employer, a worker who is aware of his responsibilities is more productive and can better communicate with us."

In his speech, Mr Lim described the SIP initiative as part of the Singapore government's goal to provide a safe and fair environment for foreign workers, and to ensure that their well-being is taken care of properly.

He offered a snapshot of other ways in which the Singapore government has sought to achieve those goals.

A tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management set up in April has received 2,500 salary claims from foreign workers in its first six months of operation, helping 90 per cent of claimants whose cases have concluded mediation to recover unpaid salaries in full, Mr Lim said.

Measures aimed at reducing overcharging by agencies have also helped to lower overcharging cases to 17 in 2017 from 36 in 2014, Mr Lim said.

Public complaints on housing conditions for foreign workers are also on pace to post a decline, to about 440 in the first 11 months of 2017 from about 580 for the whole of 2014.