From time to time, we see migrant workers at our Cuff Road Project who, while signing up for free meals, decline our help with their cases. In this report, TWC2 volunteer Hannah Go speaks to one such worker whom we’ll call Yasser (not his real name). Yasser has launched a salary claim. From what we learn of the rough contours of his case, we fear his case may be more complicated and weaker than he seems to think.

Yet he appears very confident about it, convinced that “MOM help me”, and with it, his chance of success is good. What he may not realise is that the authorities must, per their proper role, be neutral in the dispute between him and his employer. How Yasser got the impression that he has the ministry on his side and doing the best for him is unclear.

By TWC2 volunteer Hannah Go, based on an interview in November 2020

When Yasser received his copy of the In-Principle Approval (IPA) (see Glossary for explanation), he was surprised to see a totally different salary figure from what he thought he had agreed with the employer, he tells me during our interview. “IPA say $325.”

By then he had no choice but to continue, since he had already paid for the job.

The job began in March 2019, and at some point, he was told that he would receive $30 a day, along with transport money. Indeed he was paid at that rate, he says, at least in the early period. “At first, everything is okay. I get pay, sometimes from bank, sometimes cash.”

However, he tells me that he was not provided with pay slips or any other documentation to show the actual payment, or how the amounts were calculated. But as he was receiving pay regularly, that was the best that he could have expected at that point.

$30 a day is equivalent to about $800 per month. This is a far cry from the $1,600 that was mentioned when he was applying for the job.

The big issue now is that neither $1,600 nor $800 is his real entitlement according to his IPA, Yasser admits. It is $325. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have his IPA with him when we meet, so he can’t show it to us and we can only take his word for it.

We ask him to show us another day, but he hesitates, saying that he is getting help from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Like many workers, Yasser conflates MOM with the actual body conducting salary mediation between employees and employers, namely the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM).

Only verbal

30-year-old Yasser was working in a factory when he first met his current boss, who told him about his electrical company. Yasser says he checked out the company profile. Everything seemed to be in order and he contacted the boss, who then offered him — verbally, of course — a salary of $1,600 per month.

“I liked him that time. He seemed okay. I trust,” says Yasser when asked what made him decide to proceed.

Ah, but the job did not come free. To secure it, Yasser says the boss asked him for $2,000. However, as Yasser was by then in Bangladesh, it was Yasser’s uncle who made a downpayment of $500 on his behalf. The uncle was working in Singapore at the time.

Yasser claims that he paid the balance directly to the boss when he arrived in Singapore.

Downturn

In December 2019, salary payments ceased, says Yasser. By March 2020, news was that the company was closing shop. Yasser then filed a case against his employer for the pay that was due him for the four months.

He adds that he is also claiming salary for another one-and-a-half months, from April to mid-May, given that his work permit expired only in May 2020.

We ask him which of the three different salaries he is basing his claim on — $1,600, $325, or $30/day?

Yasser says that it is based on practice — i.e. actual pay. He just wants to get what he was receiving previously, which was $30 a day.

The worrying part is, from what’s been said so far, that he may have little on paper to prove it. Our understanding is that the banked salaries were few and far between, and the cash payments may be hard to corroborate, since no pay slips or statements were issued.

Moreover, if the company has closed shop, what’s there in the company’s bank account to pay Yasser with, even if he wins his case?

It has been more than a year since he has gotten paid, and seven months since his permit expired. While waiting to resolve this matter, Yasser hopes to get a chance to look for and transfer to a new job, so he can continue to support his parents and three sisters back home.