By Zhan Nanxin
In his third month on the job, it was ‘Tomorrow…. Tomorrow’. Then it became ‘Next week’ and gradually escalated to ‘Next month’.
It’s November now, and Islam Razibul has not received his pay since June 2015. He waited patiently for three months, but eventually lodged a complaint at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in August. Yet, it is not as if his situation improved; one could possibly say it got worse. MOM put him on a Special Pass, which bars him from employment while his case drags on. Adding to his financial difficulties, Razibul had to pay his own rent for both September and October.
The company had a lot of work. Razibul worked Monday to Saturday from 8am to 10pm daily. About twice a month, he worked overnight too. In addition, he had to work two Sundays monthly. This meant that Razibul was only allowed to rest for two days a month. However, despite the long hours, and despite Sunday work not calculated at the legal rate of twice basic, everything appeared to be bearable as Razibul was earning about $1,100 to $1,200 in monthly wages — for the first two months at least, before the pay stopped.
What’s interesting is his mention that his employer tried persuading Razibul to resume work even though his Work Permit has been cancelled and he is not allowed to work now. Fortunately, Razibul is well-versed in the rules and did not agree to do so. If he had, he could be charged for violating his Special Pass.
It’s all very well to follow the law, but what if the law paralyses everything? With no work, no income, he has no money to support himself, certainly not to send home to support his family — the very reason he came here in the first place. He had paid about $4,000 upfront to the job agent in Bangladesh, a sum he has not yet earned back.
Razibul is now seeking help from TWC2, and is glad for the free meals served up by the charity. But there’s still no sign of his backpay. And no end in sight to his enforced idleness.
If the employer is in a truly poor financial position, the case can drag on for quite a while, and the chance of a happy resolution for a worker like Razibul may be bleak. Enforced idleness through the Special Pass system of MOM does not help the worker, but makes his situation worse.
TWC2 has long argued that migrant workers should have their right of stay and employment delinked from the employer. The Work Permit should be in the name of the worker, not the name of the employer, with a guaranteed period of stay in Singapore, and renewable. Delinking would enable workers who have not been paid, the right to quickly look for alternative jobs. That way, they can continue to earn a living, and not be a burden on society, even as their claims for backpay are processed.