Developing a Practical Tool for Legal Aid

What started out as a mapping project for migrant workers seeking civil remedies, JWB’s latest publication became a comprehensive tool for advocates seeking to hold abusive employers accountable, even after their clients returned home.Two of JWB’s Senior Pro Bono Legal Fellows describe the process, and the challenges in navigating the routes to just compensation in Singapore.
Practitioner's Manual Team
The practitioner’s manual team. (From left to right) Vu Lan, Sanjana, Charmaine, Wei Zhen, Doug MacLean, Misa, and Prof. Sheila Hayre.

Over the summer vacation of 2014, a group of law students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) joined JWB as Pro Bono Legal Research Fellows to map out the existing laws and legal solutions for migrant workers in Singapore. The research resulted in one of the first publications of its kind in the country: A Practitioner’s Manual for Migrant Workers: Pursuing Civil Claims in Singapore and from Abroad

Targeting lawyers, social workers, and others, the publication provides a practical approach to the relevant laws for migrant workers who seek to bring or continue claims against unscrupulous employers or brokers in Singapore, even after they return to their home countries. The work addresses the most common problems workers face and provide a range of feasible remedies that are accessible anywhere. Since many workers simply give up their claims after leaving Singapore, this guide provides a valuable lifeline to just compensation, freeing the worker to return home and move on with their lives, while still pursuing their claim.

Those who exploit workers will also be on notice that they can no longer depend on the worker’s departure to avoid responsibility.

In contacting the experts for their input, it was particularly interesting to see the interplay of perspectives from different fields of expertise. While a given legal remedy might be technically possible, there may be logistical factors that make a remedy impractical. As we hope that this manual will be a practical guide for those on the ground, it was important to identify any practical constraints in legal action. This process also revealed the limits of litigation or legal recourse in some areas, which require broad policy changes to address. While we seek to advance access to justice for migrant workers through civil litigation, our work reminded us how the legal, political, and social are important dimensions of access to justice, none of which can be addressed in isolation.

Already, the manual is serving as a useful guide for practitioners advising migrant workers. Our hope is that it will support practitioners and NGOs in both Singapore and workers’ home countries in assessing cases, and determining the practical steps to take when a worker is returning home.

We hope to continuously update and refine the manual as a legal resource and practical tool to bridge any gaps in knowledge between lawyers and service providers, so as to best serve the worker in the pursuit of justice.

Finally, a lot of time and effort was put into the creation of the manual by every member of the team, which included Lim Weizhen, Ngyuen Vulan, Sanjana Jayaraman, Misa Mitsugi, and Charmaine Yap, as well as Stephanie Teh who recently graduated from the Faculty of Law. This project was a very memorable experience for all of us!

By Misa Mitsugi and Charmaine Yap, Senior Pro Bono Legal Fellows.

Download a free sample or a full copy of the Practitioner’s Manual for Migrant Workers.