Neat payslips hide violations in plain sight

Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Articles, Stories

Rahman Habibur complains that he has been short-paid for well over a year. It is not immediately obvious when one looks at his payslips. They appear very clearly drawn up. But closer examination reveals that he has a case.

Habibur, together with workmate Uddin Jashim, figured in an earlier story Construction worker says he was asked to repair taxi gearbox, which focussed on how these two construction workers were deployed to a taxi workshop by their boss. Whilst this was illegal, the two guys didn’t approach Transient Workers Count Too over this issue. They approached us because they had been short-paid.

Of the two, it is Habibur who has with him several documents, including payslips from months back. There are two features about them worth pointing out.

The first is that with a basic salary of $700 per month, which Habibur confirms is correct and in accordance with the In-principle Approval for Work Permit issued by the Ministry of Manpower before he came to Singapore to take up this job, the pay rate for overtime pay should be $5.5070 per hour. This figure is obtained using the formula established by law: overtime pay should be 1.5 times the basic rate of pay.

However, on his payslips, it shows the employer using a rate of 5.0481 per overtime hour. There is no explanation how this figure was obtained, but nonetheless, it cannot be correct. That it was not a clerical error in a certain month can be demonstrated by this figure’s regular appearance in several months’ payslips. Below are his payslips for February, April and September 2016, which you can click on to enlarge.


The difference between the correct and erroneous overtime rates translates to a discrepancy of about $30 – $35 a month — not a lot, but still unfair.

The other thing that catches your writer’s eye is how, at first sight, Habibur was shown to be working exactly 72 hours of overtime a month, in several months. There is a significance to this figure. The Employment Act stipulates that no worker shall be made to work more than 72 overtime hours a month. But in real life, it is quite hard to schedule a worker to work exactly 72 hours especially as some months have fewer days than others. The overtime figure normally varies from month to month.

“Did you work exactly 72 hours overtime in these months?” your writer asked Habibur.

Habibur who is comfortably fluent in English, having worked in Singapore for about eight years and having spent the past year interacting with Singaporean taxi drivers in his job, laughs and says, “I work more than that.”

He explains that his job was from 8am to 8pm daily, except Sundays when he worked half a day in the morning. He then points out the figure marked as “Allowance” in his various payslips.

“The extra overtime is there,” he explains.

Indeed, the varying figure of “Allowance” divides very neatly by the (incorrect) overtime rate of 5.0481 into whole hours. Such precision does not happen by chance; it strongly supports Habibur’s contention that “Allowance” conceals the overtime hours he had to work in excess of the legal maximum of 72 hours a month.

But the rate for Sundays is different. It should be twice the basic rate of pay if it is the employer who scheduled Sunday hours, which in this case appears to be so. Nowhere on the payslips is Sunday pay shown as a separate computation, which it should be.

In the September 2016 payslip, there is a deduction of $300. Habibur explains that after he damaged a car (told in the earlier story) the boss insisted that he pay $2,000 for repairs through monthly deductions. Habibur is unhappy about it and wants to get the money back. He doesn’t think he was given any choice in the matter and so his “agreement” to pay the amount was not freely given. It’s not altogether clear if he has a strong case, although it can be argued that the boss was wrong to ask him to drive the car in the first place when Habibur does not have a driving licence. Can one place blame on Habibur for driving badly?

The point of this story is not actually about Habibur, or Jashem for that matter. It’s about the value of written payslips.

Transient Workers Count Too advocated for more than six or seven years that written payslips should be mandatory and that copies must be given to employees. See, for example,  the statement we put out on 10 February 2012, MOM needs to be more proactive than reactive over salary complaints by foreign workers. There, we recommended that

It should be made mandatory for employers of foreign workers to provide a pay slip to each employee monthly showing detailed calculations of pay, overtime, allowances and deductions. This arms the employee with documentary proof as to whether he has been paid correctly, and whether illegal deductions have been levied.

See also the story dated 8 May 2012, Johir’s going home, minus one good hand, wherein we wrote:

The system as designed also disempowers workers. For example, TWC2 has long argued that it should be mandatory for employers to provide written or printed pay slips so that workers can prove their case whenever needed, but our proposal has sunk into the ministry’s proverbial black hole.

We were saying it again and again — and that was five years ago. Eventually, MOM made this the rule starting April 2016.

Without written payslips in workers’ hands, someone like Habibur would have a hard time knowing whether his pay was correctly calculated, and it may be well nigh impossible to prove his claim. With them, we can see within minutes where exactly the salary violations are. It makes a fair outcome a wee bit more likely.

In short: TWC2’s patient advocacy over the years has made a difference here.

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

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