Bangladeshi migrant deaths in Singapore

Stronger labour laws and basic human rights still elusive

Migrant workers in Singapore
Migrant workers outside the Punggol S-11 workers' dormitory in Singapore. PHOTO: Reuters

From afar, Singapore glimmers with wealth and prosperity, but beneath the surface lies a dark truth: the exploitation of its migrant workers. Among the most vulnerable are young Bangladeshi men, who make up the largest demographic within migrant worker deaths. The dream of a better life in Singapore is often far from the reality that awaits them, as they find themselves mired in harsh working conditions, massive debt, and lack of support structures.

At Migrant Death Map, we documented all reported migrant worker deaths from January 1, 2000 to August 3, 2022 in Singapore, using data found in local newspapers and the Ministry of Manpower's Workplace Safety and Health Reports, and investigated the key issues surrounding these deaths. This project was born out of inspiration, necessity, disbelief, and the desire to commit the names and lives of migrant workers to our nation's collective memory.

There are multiple, intersecting factors that cause migrant deaths in Singapore. Workplace fatalities are the leading cause of death, accounting for 66 percent of all migrant worker deaths in our dataset. According to the Singapore Ministry of Manpower's own data, 37 workers died and 12,766 were injured in 2021. This means that a worker died at their workplace every 10 days, and 35 workers were injured at work every day. Many of these fatalities involved Bangladeshi men.

While there is risk involved in manual labour, the lack of safety faced by migrant workers at their workplaces are not inherent to the nature of their work, but symptoms of an exploitative labour regime where lives are staked for capitalistic gain. Many of these accidents are preventable, and involve employer negligence. Shafiqul Samad died in 2006 after being punctured in the head by a mobile scaffolding unit, which was not properly attached to its frame. Aminul Islam Ali Hossain Hawlader died in 2008 from extensive burns – the result of a flash fire caused by equipment leaks that had not been repaired. Khorim died in 2014 after being crushed by a steel gate that had no safety features installed. Salim Miah died in 2017 after being hit and crushed by a dislodged metal plate. According to a media report, he had been "left to his own devices" working in an excavator pit that contained "no system to ensure that approved construction methods were used." In each case, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) found that the employers had failed to provide safe working conditions for their employees. Unfortunately, we archive many more deaths like these in our datasheet and map.

Despite the way it is perceived by the rest of the world, Singapore is very much lacking in terms of the safety infrastructures in place for migrant workers. Importantly, we must recognise that workplace safety is not limited to construction sites and shipyards. Factors such as a worker's healthcare, mental health, and transportation all play a part in creating a safe working environment. Take the issue of transport for example, which has been a point of contention and lobbying in Singapore for over a decade. Migrant workers travel to and from their worksites on the back of lorries – an outdated practice that continues to be normalised and justified for the migrant worker population alone. In 2009, it was reported that "an average of four workers a week never reached their destinations in one piece." Why must we accept this as status quo?

Many workers dream of a better life in Singapore, but this often comes at a steep cost. The debt that workers incur in order to pay recruitment agents can take years to pay off, and the high cost of living in Singapore makes it even more difficult to make ends meet. The harsh working conditions, lack of healthcare subsidies and limited insurance coverage, lack of nutrition and balance in catered food, and substandard living accommodations further compound their difficulties. Many workers also incur "health" debts, as they are compelled to delay seeking medical treatment until they return to Bangladesh. This often results in missed diagnoses and serious health complications.

The lack of support structures for migrant workers in Singapore is another major issue. While some NGOs provide assistance, the Singaporean government and the Bangladeshi embassy provide little support to these vulnerable individuals. As a result, many workers feel isolated and helpless when they face problems such as unpaid wages, abuse by employers, or medical emergencies. The support provided by NGOs can also be superficial and not address the root causes of these issues.

We have all heard someone say, after learning about a death, that "things are worse in the Middle East," or "Singapore is better than where they come from." That kind of thinking is part of the narrative we should try and change. A death is a death, and false comparisons are not helpful. Countries like Singapore cannot keep pointing fingers at other countries – it must step up and take accountability as one of the richest nations in the world – anything less would be morally bankrupt. Many are not aware that some Middle Eastern countries have already outlawed practices that are still present in Singapore, such as the lorry transportation of migrant workers.

From a policy perspective, there are obvious changes that need to be made. The Singaporean government and employers must take responsibility for the safety and well-being of their workers. Moreover, labour laws must be strengthened in order to end exploitative practices and ensure workers' rights. The Bangladeshi High Commission in Singapore must also be better advocates for their citizens, and stop turning a blind eye to unethical practices. Curiously, the high commission charges a fee (Tk 950) for IPA Attestations to workers applying to come to Singapore. This is an unnecessary procedure which amounts to a significant amount of money in BDT. These collections must be stopped immediately as they do not guarantee that a worker can get a job in Singapore, and so serve no useful purpose. The Singapore government also collects a "foreign worker levy," of which there is no publicly available information on what the money is used for. Why has the Bangladeshi High Commission never publicly questioned this?

It should be made clear that we are not trying to discourage people from coming to Singapore for work. But there does need to be greater awareness on the realities of migrant work in Singapore, so that we can call upon the relevant powers that be to instate stronger labour laws and basic human rights for all workers. Everyone deserves dignified work.


The Migrant Worker Death Map is a visual, geographical representation of migrant worker deaths that have been reported in Singapore over the last two decades. View our website in full here: