Since Singapore does not have a Freedom of Information law and the government’s opendata resource is based on selective processed data (not what “open data” should be), each time we spot some useful information in government announcements or the media, we archive the information here. It may get out of date quite fast, but it’s better to have something stored here than nothing.

One such useful report was in the Straits Times on 2 May 2020. In the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, the story titled “Most dormitory residents have been paid their salaries: MOM” held two nuggets of information.

It said,

There are 66,000 employers here who hire work permit or S-pass holders, with some of them having staff affected by movement restrictions.

We believe this number would be employers of non-domestic workers. Since there were 261,800 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) as at December 2019, and since typically a household would only have one such employee, there must be a roughly similar number of employers of domestic Work Permit holders.

The 66,000 employers mentioned by the Straits Times would thus refer to the 200,000 S-Pass holders and 737,200 non-domestic Work Permit holders (also as at December 2019).

This gives a ratio of 14.2 foreign employees per employer.

Bank accounts

Another useful factoid from the newspaper was this:

The number of workers with bank accounts increased from 472,000 before the circuit breaker period began on April 7 to 521,000 now, the MOM said.

The trouble is that Straits Times’ use of the word “workers” (above) is unclear whether they mean (a) Work Permit holders, or (b) S-Pass and Work Permit holders. So we can’t assess the significance of the figures 470,000 and 521,000. Are they to be read against 737,800 Worker Permit holders or 937,800 S-Pass and Work Permit holders?

However, iit’s been written law for a long time that S-Pass holders must be paid electronically. Furthermore, as deduced in the next three paragraphs, we believe that figures of 470,000 and 521,000 refer to Work Permit holders.

An advisory from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) dated 11 April had percentages that can be used to read meaning into the above. In that advisory, paragraph 8, MOM said:

Today, about 70% of foreign workers have opened bank accounts as part of the work pass application process. The majority (76%) of the employers with foreign workers are paying salaries electronically. For the minority (24%) of the employers who do not pay salaries electronically, they are now required under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act to shift to electronic payments for salary payments that are due.

The context suggests that when MOM referred to “foreign workers” in that advisory, they meant Work Permit holders, since the latter part of the paragraph spoke of payment in cash, which has so far only been allowed for Worker Permit holders, not S-Pass holders.

Also, 470,000 would be 64% of 737,800 Work Permit holders, a percentage sort of close to the 70% figure that MOM used in its advisory. (Another example of how frustrating MOM’s numbers can be!)

As a small aside, we should bear in mind that the 70% figure is only for workers who had bank accounts opened “as part of the work pass application process”. Some workers would also have had bank accounts opened with the aid of their employers after having been issued their Work Permits. Our observation from casework is that these aren’t many, so the 70% figure can still be used.

If 472,000 (from the Straits Times) had bank accounts pre-Circuit Breaker (Singapore’s term for lockdown) and they represented about 70% of Work Permit holders, then the 521,000 by start of May would represent about 77.5%.

This means that despite MOM’s advisory calling on all employers who have hitherto paid salaries in cash to now pay through bank, we still have a way to go before full realisation. It is to be expected. It must be a herculean task for POSB Bank to process so many account openings in such a short period of time.

What is unknown however is how many workers remain whose employers have not even started the process of opening a bank account for them, contrary to MOM’s advisory.

We note paragraph 9(b) of the advisory, which says:

For foreign workers without a local bank account, employers must immediately apply for a POSB bank account on workers’ behalf via WP Online, and are required to credit salaries directly into workers’ bank accounts for subsequent payment cycles.

(emphasis added by TWC2)

One happy result of Covid-19 is that we are lurching forward to universal payment of salaries through the bank.

How many employers were not paying electronically?

We also note the factoid that pre-Circuit Breaker, 76% of the employers with foreign workers were paying salaries electronically. This was mentioned in MOM’s advisory of 11 April and quoted above. 24% of employers were not.

Since the Straits Times story now mentions that there are 66,000 employers, this means that about 15,800 employers were not. What the percentage now becomes after the recent rush in opening bank accounts is unknown.

How many employers have submitted declarations re salary payment?

Singapore has not had any system, unlike in the UAE, where employers of foreign workers have to routinely declare, each month, that they have paid salaries to their employees.

However, the advisory of 11 April contains a paragraph 12 which mandates a one-off requirement in relation to salaries for March (payable in April). That paragraph says:

Employers with foreign workers residing in dormitories are required to make a declaration by 15 April 2020, 2359 hours that they will pay salaries electronically by the next salary payment due date.

Note how it is limited to “workers residing in dormitories” but does not specify which class of dormitories.

From a talk given by Imran Tajuddin at Maruah.org’s May Day webinar (1 May 2020), we learned that accommodation for workers can be classed thus:

Since large numbers of workers do not live in dormitories, and since the advisory does not state whether it applies to purpose-built dorms or also factory-converted dorms, it is thus unclear how many employers are required to report by 15 April.

All we know is that there are a total of 66,000 employers of S-Pass and Work Permit holders. and many of their employees live in dorms.

Despite it being two weeks after the deadline of 15 April, only 8,500 employers have filed declarations. As reported by the Straits Times,

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) noted yesterday that about 3 per cent – or about 300 – of the 8,500 employers who have submitted declarations have indicated that they owed salaries to staff.

In the absence of clarity about the denominator (how many employers are supposed to declare by 15 April) it is hard to say whether 8,500 is a good percentage or a poor one. On the face of it though, it looks like a poor one, being a long way off “66,000 employers”. Unfortunately, the newspaper does not say what MOM is doing about compliance, especially since employers who have not yet paid salaries are unlikely to make the required declaration — it would be self-incriminating.