Wage theft as it happens

Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Articles, Stories

There are many stories on this website about employers arbitrarily reducing migrant workers’ salaries soon after the latter have started on their jobs. Employers and their agents promise certain terms of employment while the worker is still in his home country, but once the worker has arrived in Singapore, salaries are lowered and deductions increased. Sometimes, the worker is told about the changes within his first few weeks on the job, other times the worker is not even informed. Either way, no consent from the worker is sought. He is simply told. If he protests (which would be his right), he is told he has a choice: submit to the lowered salary or lose the job.

The threat of termination is used as a form of blackmail.

Having paid thousands of dollars in recruitment fees for the job, no worker can afford to lose his job. His most logical option is to continue working under protest, earn what he can, and at some later stage launch a salary claim to recover the difference.

The Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) has said that workers should lodge complaints early. But this kind of advice is totally impractical. The worker knows that if he did that, he would lose his job. MOM does not guarantee that he can get a new job without having to pay recruitment fees all over again. MOM’s so-called advice carries a financial penalty that can throw the worker and his family into penury.

Most of the stories on this site are told by workers after they have launched a claim. This one is different. This one is about a worker who is still on the job, but who is continuing to feed us evidence of his employer’s behaviour. Because he is still on the job, we will give him a pseudonym. Naturally too, we have blurred out key details for this article, but the copies retained by TWC2 would have those details.

“Tarique Sohel” received a copy of MOM’s In-principle Approval for a Work Permit (“IPA”) while he was still in Bangladesh. Carrying a March 2017 date, it stated a basic monthly salary of $550, with no deductions.

Here’s the relevant portion of the IPA:

In late March 2017, he signed a form (prepared by MOM) which again stated that his basic monthly salary was $550, with no deductions.

He started work on 30 March 2017. In early May 2017, he received his first payslip, for the month of April. This is the relevant portion of it.

You don’t see the figure $550 anywhere on it. Instead you see a rate of $19.00 per day — a figure that did not appear on the IPA. The latter rate translates to an hourly wage of $2.375 per hour or a basic monthly salary of only $453 a month, using a formula applied by MOM. $453 is 18% less than the agreed basic salary of $550 a month. This is larceny pure and simple.

The overtime rate of $3.56 per hour is consistent with the lower unofficial basic hourly rate of $2.375. It is not consistent with the IPA’s basic salary of $550 per month (which would otherwise translate to an overtime rate of $4.327 per hour).

Moreover, you see deductions from Tarique Sohel’s salary, e.g. for “Dormitory $100” and “Electricity $30”, when the IPA clearly stated that “Monthly housing, amenities and services deductions” would be zero.

TWC2 understands that Tarique Sohel has never agreed to any of these variations from his IPA. He showed us his papers to demonstrate his unhappiness.

The employer’s behaviour is shockingly brazen, and you have to wonder why they have the confidence to do it so blatantly. Is it because the employer can count on MOM to legitimise the reduced salary and new deductions even if the worker eventually lodges a complaint?

A proper response, in line with good governance, would be to require company reporting each month of how salaries are computed and paid so that any variance from IPAs is spotted and stopped immediately. This way, no worker has to step forward personally and file complaints at risk of losing his job and being sent home. But why is such a simple intervention system still absent from our landscape?

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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