23 November 2013, Saturday
At last, the story appears in the Straits Times, but it’s quite deeply buried within the local news section. The Online Citizen has a longer story. For a summary of both stories, see Menton Technologies’ failure to pay salaries in the news.
Alex visits one of the Geylang houses in which the workers are staying. A worker standing outside recognises him from TWC2 and invites him in to talk. Five or six other Menton workers join in. One of them produces his salary calculation papers, asking Alex to check if his calculations have been correctly made. Some of the others are clutching the forms that TWC2 had given them in the days prior, but from the corner of his eye, Alex can see that they haven’t filled them in wholly.
The employer has called for a Monday morning meeting at the company office in Toh Guan, they say, but aren’t sure what it will be about. It strikes Alex how callous it is that here we have an employer who isn’t paying salaries leaving his workers broke, and there we have him summoning his workers to travel half the length of Singapore. Where are they going to get bus fare even? Why can’t the employer go to his workers?
“Are you getting your meals as promised?” Alex asks, changing the topic.
“Yes, every day have. One day chicken, next day mutton, then chicken, then mutton,” they say. “One day, man bring two times. Morning bring breakfast and lunch. Evening man bring dinner.”
Alex also notices that the room has an airconditioner which is running quite well. This company might have been quite a good one to work for when times were good.
Going off on a tangent, Alex asks if they know who the landlord is. They don’t know the name, but say he’s a Chinese man. However, they don’t really see him. Instead there is a master-tenant. “One Bangla man, he rent whole house,” one of the workers explain, “then he rent room to companies.”
Of the four rooms on the upper level of the house, Menton has taken two of them, accommodating a total of ten workers. Other companies use the other two rooms. Counting the slippers at doorways, there may be 30 people living on the upper floor.
26 November 2013, Tuesday
A group of workers, from the Toh Guan dormitory, come to TWC2 to consult with Nor Karno, our social worker again. They tell him about developments that took place yesterday, leading to much confusion.
Some workers went to the company office (also in Toh Guan Road East), others went to the Manpower ministry, where they were told to make their way to the company office instead. These workers are not very happy with the brusque way they were treated by MOM.
At the company office, they were expecting to see the “insurance man”, but only the supervisor was there, they report.
The men were told that the company was only planning to give them $700 each in cash and an airticket home worth $300. Most thought that was a ridiculously low offer. A form was presented with a choice of “Accept” and “Not accept” as answers. There was also a blank column in which they could write in their claimed amount, if they did not accept. Then a final column for signature.
The men didn’t seem to be able to tell TWC2 clearly what signing would mean. If they ticked “Not accept”, wrote in a bigger amount and signed, did it mean that the signature indicated acceptance of $700 and the bigger amount written in was only for reference?
Kenneth rings the MOM case officer Goh Kok Beng to see if any clarification is available. According to Kenneth’s impression, Goh seems surprised to hear about such a form. His reaction is that it’s not the proper way to go about it. In any case, he says, the matter should be resolved as a group, not individually, worker by worker. Goh also mentions to Kenneth that $700 is too low, and that the workers should be getting around “70 percent”.
Karno and Kenneth then remind the workers to finish their claim amount calculations. It’s reaching a point where you really need to know with certainly how much you’re owed, they tell the men. Otherwise how can the matter be resolved? They are given 24 hours to finish their homework and make photocopies for themselves, MOM and TWC2’s retention.
27 November 2013, Wednesday
A small group come to TWC2 in the afternoon, bringing with them their completed calculations. But they relate to Kenneth and Karno a bombshell. Apparently a larger group met with MOM case officer Goh in the morning, where the same form (from Monday) was presented, this time with Goh’s blessing.
According to the workers, Goh asked them to fill in the blank column with a “reasonable” claim amount. The workers tell TWC2 that they felt pressurised to write in amounts significantly lower than what their own calculations indicated is owed to them.
Kenneth is upset. “After doing all this work to calculate your salary and overtime pay, why did you put the numbers aside and pluck a lower figure from thin air to write down?”
The workers looked helpless. Something else must have been said at that meeting that made them feel disempowered. It took a while to draw it out of the embarrassed workers, but it is not opportune to reveal here what we eventually learned.
TWC2 wonders now what Goh’s original “we will try to get you 70 percent” means. Naturally, at the start the workers, quite rightly, took it to mean that MOM will help them get about 70 percent of what they’ve been owed, but now it appears that it really means, at best, 70 percent of the arbitrarily lowered amounts written into the form.
Wednesday is not a good day for the workers. They all look downcast.