By Nguyen Minh Quan
Unlike injury cases, workers’ complaints about salary and deductions usually don’t take more than a few months. However, Bangladeshi national Badal, 34, has been in limbo for ten months. His case probably won’t be settled soon. The longer the process is, the more difficult it will be to collect evidence from the employer and the greater the financial and psychological hardship imposed on the employee.
Reviewing his story, TWC2 vice-president comments: “Here is a worker who is stuck in Singapore because of a problem not at all of his own making. But he’s the one paying the price.” Unlike other workers on Special Passes, however, Badal is allowed to work at temporary jobs. “But MOM only allows a few kinds of jobs — mostly as dorm cleaners and such — to be offered as temporary jobs,” Alex points out. “Sometimes, these TJS workers complain that they don’t get overtime, and so do not earn what they used to, or they aren’t applying the skills they have, so again, not earning what they came here to earn.”
‘TJS’ stands for the Ministry of Manpower’s Temporary Job Scheme.
Badal came to Singapore in January 2012 to work for SPM Construction Pte. Ltd. He learnt of the job opportunity through a friend who had came to Singapore to work earlier. The salary itself wasn’t a problem. In Badal’s own words, “salary good”, “all fill”, and overtime work was properly paid. But the company, he alleges, deducted $500 each month over four consecutive months — a total of $2,000.
At the time, Badal thought that this amount was used to settle administrative fees and didn’t think more about it.
Then, in January 2013 when his work permit was renewed, the company began to deduct another $2,000 from his salary, he said.
The total loss to him ($4,000) is a very large amount , especially when converted to his home currency. You can imagine how much he could have contributed to his family income if the company hadn’t done this. Badal was unhappy, but not wanting to lose the job, only grumbled among his fellow workers.
But the terms of the job also deteriorated through the second year. The company began cutting overtime pay and then reduced basic salary while asking him to work more hours. “Work a lot, cannot rest”, claimed Badal. There were periods when “two day no sleep,” such were the working hours. He decided to talk to his boss but didn’t expect what came after.
Angry at his speaking up, the boss cancelled Badal’s work pass and set in motion his repatriation. Badal went straight to MOM.
While the ministry investigated, Badal was put on the Temporary Job Scheme. Its aim is laudable, allowing foreign workers to a earn their living while waiting for their cases to be settled. But, as Alex pointed out, it doesn’t work as well as it should, and is too restrictive.
“If there is no prima facie evidence of wrongdoing by the worker, MOM should simply allow a transfer to a new 2-year job,” suggests Alex.
Badal was issued a piece of paper by MOM listing five job agencies who can offer temporary jobs. Through one, he found a job for a contract period of six months — the maximum allowed under TJS. It is not clear whether he completed the six months because Badal then reported that he was “unsatisfied” with the job.
“I don’t know of any worker who is happy with a TJS job,” adds Alex. “It’s probably just as exploitative as other jobs, except that now the worker has his hands bound by MOM’s absurdly inflexible regulations.”
Through the TJS agent, Badal got another job at Kartright Pte Ltd in Jurong Industrial Estate working as an office cleaner. Complaining of “no off Sunday” and about the company expecting him to pay for his own accommodation, he decided to quit. Now he’s here at TWC2’s soup kitchen while waiting for the agent to call him back with another job opening.
Meanwhile, what progress with the original investigation into the illegal deductions? Any sign of restitution? Badal has no idea.
“Long time already, my [case] officer at MOM never call me.”