Jolovan Wham

Jolovan Wham is executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME). HOME was established with the vision of making Singapore a country that welcomed migrant workers and protected their human rights. Jolovan describes this vision as a broad initial starting point which was developed into three branches of action by the NGO over the 11 years it has been in operation. The three branches through which HOME conducts its efforts are advocacy, welfare and empowerment. Through these three avenues HOME targets different priorities in the advancement of migrant workers rights in Singapore. There are approximately 200,000 migrant workers in Singapore who come from countries including Bangledesh, India, China, the Phillipines, Malaysia and Indonesia. According to Jolovan the Singaporean social, economic and political contexts are not currently favourable to formally ratifying international law on migrant workers rights. Thus, while the Convention remains unsigned, HOME and other organisations conduct strategic campaigns, which place pressure on the government to protect migrant workers and raise awareness and visibility of their human rights issues with the Singaporean public.

HOME has collaborated with other NGOs to conduct a strategic campaign to secure one day off per week for maids (domestic workers) in Singapore.  While the campaign was started by another NGO in 2002 it had petered out until HOME reignited it in 2007. When HOME embarked on this campaign it understood that it had to identify all of the stakeholders in this issue and find a solution that would satisfy the various interests at play. For example, the business community employing maids were hesitant to give domestic migrant workers a day off because of a fear that they would engage in undesirable behaviour and become lazy or distracted and less productive in their work. However, HOME was able to garner support based on their counter argument that workers who enjoyed better mental and physical health as a consequence of having some time off would actually be better able to give their full potential to the jobs employers wanted them to perform. In this particular example as well as others Jolovan stressed how critical it is for human rights defenders to strategically frame campaigns so that they can influence individuals, businesses, government and the wider community by speaking to their interests and showing why and how advancing migrant workers rights is beneficial for not only the migrant workers themselves but also employers and society more broadly too.

In the 25th anniversary year of CMW Jolovan says that his organisation will be continuing its work to raise awareness of the rights violations migrant workers experience in Singapore. Areas of focus for HOME currently include highlighting areas where the government’s policies and laws are failing migrant workers specifically, recruitment fees, the sponsorship system whereby a worker is tied to a single employer and has no power to change their employment as well as the appalling and heartbreaking situation of migrant workers who work as cleaners but cannot afford a home or shelter, forcing them to sleep in rubbish bin centres. Through legal case work and telling these stories, connecting with the mainstream media, HOME will pressure the government on these issues as they continue their tireless efforts to improve the lives of migrant workers in Singapore.