Labour protection for the vulnerable: challenges and recommendations

Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Articles, Facts, research, analysis, News, Press Releases

A new study released by Transient Workers Count Too on 29 June 2017 reveals challenges faced by low-wage migrant workers with unpaid salaries and workplace injuries in obtaining compensation and recourse.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Singapore Management University (“SMU”) and Transient Workers Count Too (“TWC2”), reveals that significant numbers of workers face problems with (i) the under-reporting of injuries by their employers, (ii) accessing evidence needed to support a claim, including documentation and witnesses, and (iii) enforcing successful judgments when their employers refuse to pay.

The research examines both the legislative framework governing injury and salary claims, and the first-hand experiences of migrant workers with claims. Field researchers conducted detailed interviews with 157 migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, and China, all of whom had filed claims with the MOM. They also interviewed a range of stakeholders, including academics, industry representatives, and legal and medical practitioners.

The study’s findings highlight the difficulties that workers face in accessing the evidence that the MOM requires to support a claim:

  • Workers with injury claims need to demonstrate that the accident happened at work, yet report that they often find that co-worker witnesses are threatened with job loss and repatriation if they provide corroborative testimony.
  • Workers with salary claims report that they are not provided with the contracts, pay slips, and/or timesheets needed to support their claims, and often have trouble getting copies from their employers. Workers paid in cash face further difficulties demonstrating underpayment or non-payment.

The study also discusses the lack of viable legal remedies available to workers when their employers default on Labour Court orders.

Drawing on practices from other countries, it explores potential solutions to these issues. Suggestions include:

  • a standardised employment contract for all workers;
  • payment of salary by electronic transfer;
  • compulsory reporting of workplace injuries by both doctors and employers;
  • a dedicated unit within MOM for enforcing Labour Court orders; and/or
  • the payment of all Labour Court orders to the MOM or a Public Trustee.

These recommendations aim to improve the system for both Singaporean and foreign workers.

One of the authors, SMU School of Social Sciences’ Assistant Professor of Sociology Nicholas Harrigan said, “We were particularly surprised by the difficulties that workers face in providing the evidence MOM requires to make a claim. Workers reported not having contracts, pay slips, or access to timesheets. Without these, workers find it difficult to bring a successful claim. In addition, they report that witnesses are intimidated or coerced by employers.”

Another research author, Tamera Fillinger, of TWC2’s migrant worker clinic and SMU School of Law, Adjunct Faculty said, “We were also surprised by the lack of viable legal options for workers whose employers fail to pay the compensation ordered by MOM. Workers and stakeholders reported that if employers wind up or simply refuse to pay, the enforcement options are unaffordable or insufficient. Many workers go home without compensation, even when they win their claim.”

TWC2 President, Noorashikin Rahman said, “It is in every Singaporean’s interest to have an efficacious, coherent legal framework to address the salary and injury claims endemic in these industries. The protection of low-wage workers, who form the bedrock of our construction, shipyard and manufacturing industries, have deep-seated, far-reaching economic and social consequences for the Singapore model of success. An effective system of protection for these workers is important both for Singapore’s productivity and our reputation for upholding basic rights.”

The authors and TWC2 thank the Chen Su Lan Trust for the funding that made this research possible.

The full report can be accessed through either of these links:

Link to e-flipbook version

Link to pdf version

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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