Singapore Activist: Prison Labour is Slavery

On Sunday, human rights activist Jolovan Wham spoke out against prison labour in Singapore. He said that with the low wages and lack of free consent, prison labour is equivalent to slavery.

Working in prison is a part of prison life that convicts look forward to to pass time but only those assessed to have “good behaviour” are offered jobs.

However, the labour conditions in prison do not match local and international labour standards.

Forced Labour

First of all, prisoners do not even have a proper choice whether they want to work or not. They are stuck in their cells for most of the day and do not have much else to do. There is no “free consent” and therefore prisoners are doing forced labour, he notes.

“A company engaging prison labour should ensure that if a prisoner refuses the work offered there is no threat of penalty, such as loss of privileges or an unfavourable assessment of behaviour which could affect the reduction of the prisoner’s sentence.”

Jolovan Wham


Secondly, the low wage given to prisoners make it slavery. Based on his conversations with an ex-prison officer and ex-convicts, he found that big companies and MNCs have workshops inside Changi Prison.

The amount they pay prisoners working 8 hours a day ranges between a meagre $1.80 and $5.80 per week. With such low pay, companies can profit heavily from the cheap labour. Another question is whether prisoners are covered by work injury insurance.


The last point is that despite the low wages and lack of free consent, the Singapore Prison Service can simply justify such labour as “training” programmes.

“Companies engaged in such programmes will no doubt tout it as part of their corporate social responsibility. However, in reality, they are just taking advantage of slave labour. These work training programmes are like sweat shops.”

Jolovan Wham

Fighting for prisoners’ rights, Wham called for prisoners to be fairly paid. They should not be forced into cheap labour and they should be given free choice.

Prisoners have rights too. They deserve better work conditions. Life in prison is already suffocating and boring, work should not be worse.