My aunt is a low wage worker, has been for many years. She doesn't really need to do it now, having retired, but she still does it because she doesn't like staying home.
In her many years doing jobs that Singaporeans don't like to do, like being a hawker assistant, chye tow kuay cook, clearing plates at a food court or fast food outlet, I have heard many stories of woe about the long hours and tough life.
Some employers take advantage of low wage workers like her, by doing things like making her work more than 12 hours a day, not paying for overtime, not giving paid public days, not granting sick leave, or not paying CPF on time (or not even paying CPF at all). And very often, many of these workers don't realize they have rights too, especially the older ones and the ones without formal education.
We keep an eye out for my aunt's rights, as her family, even though she works now to pass the time and meet people, but not everyone has family to protect them from unscrupulous employers.
My aunt has worked more than 12 hours many times in her previous jobs. It would have been good if someone had told her that was not allowed.
Once, she scalded her arm in the course of serving hot desserts. The boss paid for her to see a doctor but I don't think she was paid for the day she was on medical leave.
Other times, she gets bullied to come to work on days that other older workers don't want to work, even though she wasn't very much younger.
And not every employer she's had paid her CPF either. As if being paid so little isn't bad enough.
It's better now, she works for a big fast food chain that is more likely to follow the labour laws.
I was at Tiong Bahru Market last week, to watch a fun little musical number performed by theVoice, a community theatre group. They sang and danced to the song Jit Pa Ban, with new lyrics, to get the idea of workers' rights across, and to raise awareness of the WorkRight hotline (1800-221-9922). Everyone at the hawker centre watched with amusement, and gave them a hand at the end of the little show.
Hopefully, more workers will know their rights and how to protect themselves. If you are a friend or family member of someone who you know is being exploited, you can call the number too.
I can't wait to see the video of the performance!