In carefully couched language, the Sunday Times told the government that it’s all very well to enhance penalties and add new offences to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, but unless there is enforcement, what difference will it make?
Passing it will be the easy part. But the gap between principle and practice is wide.
However noble the letter of the law is, the changes will matter little unless they are rigorously enforced and offenders are brought to book.
— Sunday Times, 19 August 2012, Mind the gap between principle and practice, by Radha Basu
Her op-ed pointed out, for example, that although it has long been acknowledged that employers demanding and getting kickbacks from employees for giving them jobs is a prevalent practice, even if already illegal under existing laws,
Yet, between January and April, only four people were convicted for kickback offences. There were only 10 convictions for the whole of last year.
She also argued for the same improvements similar to those that TWC2 has long pushed for, which are detailed timesheets, itemised payslips (with copies to employees) and salary payment through bank.
For instance, making it mandatory for all employers to issue payslips to workers detailing both pay and deductions, and ensuring that all payments are made to a bank account, rather than in cash, could make underpayment of salaries or illegal deductions easier to prove.
Migrant workers’ groups say that a majority of workers with salary woes are paid in cash.
In a survey of 3,000 Work Permit holders last year by MOM and the Migrant Workers’ Centre, one in five said they were paid in cash. Given that there are more than 700,000 Work Permit holders here, excluding maids, it could mean that at least 140,000 get their salaries in cash.
The article also touched on the issue of Work Permits of only one year duration, which creates churn, a practice that
… also hinder productivity, as fresh arrivals are likely to be less productive than experienced ones.
This too is another point that TWC2 has long highlighted.
Finally, the article stresses the many ways in which exploitation of foreign labour hurts low-wage Singaporeans too, citing economist Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat of the National University of Singapore, who has warned of a “compelling link” between increasing numbers of foreign workers and wage declines for the poorest Singaporeans.