Straits Times forum: Salary non-payment a big issue for migrant workers

Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Media Coverage, News, Our Stand, Press Releases

Further to the feature on poor accommodation for foreign workers in the Straits Times 19 August 2014 mentioned earlier in Cost implications of government policies crucial to question fo foreign worker accommodation, TWC2 vice-president Alex Au’s letter to the Forum editor was published on Monday 25 August 2014:

Salary non-payment a big issue for migrant workers

While it is important for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to act strongly against poor accommodation for foreign workers (“Big foreign worker dorms faring poorly”; last Tuesday), Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) hopes MOM shows the same determination over salary payments.

In our experience, complaints of salary non-payment are seldom satisfactorily resolved from the workers’ point of view.

Foreign workers are here to earn enough to support their families. Being paid in full and on time is thus critically important to them.

From a client-centred perspective, MOM should pay equal or greater attention to salaries as to housing.

A recent TWC2 survey found that about one in three workers is either paid less than what is due him or not paid at all. We estimate this affects about 130,000 foreign workers.

In nearly all instances we encounter, workers tell TWC2 that MOM makes little effort to obtain full settlement. Workers feel pressured to accept a fraction of what they are owed.

Their negotiating position is undermined by MOM policy that prohibits them from looking for new jobs.

Remaining jobless makes it very hard for workers to hold out and assert their right to salary arrears.

Failure to make detailed itemised payslips and payment through banks mandatory leaves many unable to prove that they have not been paid correctly.

Moreover, in the majority of the cases that come to us, the delinquent employers are not reported to have been prosecuted.

Unless MOM uses the threat of prosecution from the moment workers complain, employers do not feel any need to settle in full.

One of the conditions of the $5,000 security bond is that employers must pay salaries on time.

Even when MOM threatens to forfeit the bond, MOM policy is to obtain only about $2,000 of it to pay the affected worker, despite him being owed $7,000 or $10,000. Why not give all $5,000 to the worker?

The present framework that sees small partial settlements as “success” creates a moral hazard: It rewards breach of contract and dishonesty, and lets employers off the hook when they break the law.

Alex Au
Vice-President
Transient Workers Count Too

MOM responded in a letter also published in the Straits Times. This together with our rebuttal can be seen at MOM’s ‘rebuttal’ actually lends support to many points we made

TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our
means.

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