Published in the Straits Times Forum, 17 June 2015:
FOREIGN WORKERS’ WAGE WOES
Ensure pay is banked, offer mobility
Sunday’s report (“More foreign workers seek help over wage woes”) mentioned that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will be making it mandatory for employers to issue itemised payslips next year.
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) will be glad to see this long-overdue requirement in place.
However, this is only half the solution. The other half that also needs to be made compulsory is payment through bank transfers.
This is because payslips only show how the salaries have been calculated. They do not show whether salaries were paid, or paid in full.
TWC2 regularly sees cases where workers report that their signatures have been forged on payment vouchers to make the documentation look like they had been paid.
Even countries in the Middle East, long accused of treating migrant workers badly, have made bank transfers compulsory.
Singapore’s inaction is shameful by comparison.
Sunday’s report also had an MOM spokesman advising workers with salary claims to seek help early.
Such “advice” will be fruitless unless MOM first addresses the structural inequities faced by foreign workers.
Any worker who lodges a complaint against his employer will almost surely lose his job.
The MOM does not allow workers to stay on to look for another job except in special cases, and even then, such workers, based on TWC2’s documented cases, mostly do not land alternative jobs at all.
Partly, this is because the MOM gives them only two weeks to do so, simply too short a time. Moreover, lodging a complaint does not mean a worker gets his salary arrears paid to him.
The great majority of salary cases seen by TWC2 result in workers getting less than a third of what they are owed.
Workers know this. Lodging a complaint more than likely makes a worker’s situation worse, not better. This explains why workers delay lodging complaints until they are desperately broke.
TWC2 has long proposed to the MOM that workers should be free to change jobs.
At the same time, curbs should be placed on employers hiring fresh workers from abroad, to give workers already here a better chance of securing alternative jobs.
This will also help retain skills and experience in Singapore. Giving workers job mobility, allowing them to quit and go elsewhere, is what will make employers think twice before holding back salaries.
It should also reduce the dispute-resolution workload at MOM.
Transient Workers Count Too
The original article in the Sunday Times is paraphrased here: MOM to require salary slips from 2016?
More information about the Wage Protection System in UAE and Qatar can be found here: Wage protection system in UAE and Qatar.
None of the above recommendations are new. See, for example, the proposals TWC2 made to MOM in 2013: Proposals submitted for “second phase” employment legislation review, while a year before that, TWC2’s John Gee was quoted by the Sunday Times 13 August 2012 as saying:
While tightening the laws is a good step, activists like Mr Gee would also like to see more enforcement.
Some employers are so brazen that they take kickbacks through salary deductions, he said. However, many workers still get no pay slips, so it is difficult to prove the charges.
“Making it mandatory for employers to issue payslips and to itemise all deductions could help improve enforcement,” he said.
MOM responded to this letter from TWC2 a few days later. See MOM gives excuse that workers can always request for wages through bank.