Wei Chunyan worked at this restaurant of the ABC group
A fairly large contingent went into an ABC restaurant on Changi Road in the last week of January 2020. There were several persons from Transient Workers Count Too, a lawyer and a law clerk, a court bailiff and even a reporter from a newspaper. We were there to serve notice of seizure and sale on a employer who owed salary to a worker from China.
Wei Chunyan, 49, had been working for a year with Al-Maju Restaurant Pte Ltd, a member of the sprawling ABC group of companies. Her duties mostly involved cleaning and prepping vegetables. In July 2019, she filed a salary claim with the Ministry of Manpower, and the owed amount came to $14,773.52, as would be confirmed by the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) in its Order of Tribunal dated 22 November 2019. The Order required the employer to pay this sum to her by 6 December 2019.
That deadline came and went with no sign of the money.
Enforcement of court orders is one of the top issues foreign workers are faced with. Although the initial stages of a salary claim process — mediation, followed by a tribunal phase if mediation is unsuccessful — have been streamlined in the last few years, what happens after a worker has in hand a Settlement Agreement or Order of Tribunal remains as problematic as ever.
TWC2 has seen many employers simply ignore court orders or settlement agreements (that they willingly signed) and refuse to pay up. The options set out in law, including executing a Writ of Seizure and Sale, are cumbersome and involves costs — and the latter creates an additional financial burden on employees who are already short of money, not having been paid their salaries in the first place.
Invictus Law kindly came on board to provide pro-bono legal help in this case, though there would be various out-of-pocket expenses that might still have to be paid by the claimant in the end.
The writ issued n Wei’s favour.
The contingent was met at the restaurant by an assistant who told us that the boss was “not in town” and would not be back for four days. We saw that as delaying tactics.
We presumed the boss that he was referring to would be the main shareholder of Al-Maju Restaurant Pte Ltd which, in the most recent available filing with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), is shown as Shaikalavudin Ajmalkhan, an Indian national. Ajmalkhan (‘Khan’ for short) owns 110,000 out of the 120,000 shares in paid-up capital of the company.
Notwithstanding the boss’ absence, the bailiff told the assistant that he had come with a Writ of Seizure and Sale, and that the debtor (the company) had better pay up or he (the bailiff) would be back within a week. The implication was that the next visit would be a full execution of the writ on the assets, with consequences on the restaurant’s business continuity.
Wei Chunyan’s case was one out of four that we came across in 2019 involving the ABC group of companies. Among the four were two Indian nationals — one of which was a cook — and two Chinese women who were kitchen helpers or cleaners.
The other Chinese worker, also formally employed by Al-Maju, was owed about $4,600, much less than was owed to Wei Chunyan. But like Wei, she too complained about tiring 12-hour days, and no weekly rest days. This other worker’s case took a different trajectory from Wei Chunyan’s and ultimately, she accepted a reduced settlement offer from the employer because she wanted very much to return to China before the Chinese New Year holidays. She received about $2,000 out of the $4,600 owed.
Wei Chunyan also wanted to return to China for the festivities before the 15th day, but with Invictus Law representing her, she did not need to acquiesce to a much lower settlement before going home. However, prior to flying off, she left instructions with her lawyer that she’d be prepared to accept $10,000 instead of insisting on the full amount. She also instructed that the cheque (when received) could be made out to TWC2, and we could then send the money on to her in China.
A week after the first meeting at the restaurant, TWC2’s Choo Wai Hong and Invictus Law’s Darren Tan went back to see the employer. Again we were met by the assistant, and again the “boss” (Khan) was not there, even though we had been told that he would be back four days after the previous visit. Once more, it was quite a tense meeting, as the assistant asked that the claimant Wei Chunyan be involved in the discussion.
She did not need to be, as she was now fully represented by counsel (Invictus Law). Nor was there anything to discuss. We also sensed that this was likely an attempt to further negotiate the amount to be paid to her — a negotiation that we would not entertain (beyond the $10,000 minimum that the client had said she would accept) since there was a court order.
Lawyer Darren Tan’s parting shot to the assistant was that we either get the money now or we’d leave and return with the bailiff.
The assistant then handed over a prepared cheque for $10,000.
We noticed two things about the cheque. It had been signed by “Khan”, and the cheque was from a different company, Tatk Takt Pte Ltd. Our checks revealed that Tatk Takt was fully owned by the same Shaikalavudin Ajmalkhan. We banked the cheque and it was cleared within a few days.
Wei Chunyan was delighted to hear the news from us. She offered to donate a portion of the proceeds to TWC2, but we said there was no need, especially as she would have to bear some of the costs of enforcement too.
Thursday, 19 February 2020, Wei Chunyan confirmed that she received the money we wired to her. She sent her thanks:
Translation: I thank all the staff in TWC2 in helping me recover my salary. I would have been helpless, but with your help, for which I am very grateful, I got the salary that I should get — S$10,000. Thank you very much from me, Ms Wei Chunyan; thank you to all the staff.
TWC2’s Choo Wai Hong (left), Invictus Law’s Darren Tan (right) and the cheque.