In the one-and-a-half years working in Singapore, Rashid said he was short-paid by $21,000. This arose out of the way the employer computed his salary, which appears to be in violation of the Employment Act.

“My basic salary was $700 a month,” which is roughly the going rate in Singapore for migrant construction workers without specific skills, “but [my employer] counted it as 12 hours a day.” This would be in breach of the law, which stipulates that the normal working week should not exceed 44 hours, or eight-a-an-half hours a day. Beyond that, overtime rate should kick in, at one-an-a-half times basic salary. As a result, much of his overtime earned him no pay at all.

Even when his workday exceeded 12 hours, “they pay overtime at $1.20 per hour,” he said. “This is not correct. It should be $5.50 per hour.”

His computation was spot on. At 44 hours a week, it would total 189 normal hours a month. This means his normal hourly rate was $3.68. At 1.5 times, his overtime rate (i.e. above 8.5 hours a day) should be $5.52.

“They think I am stupid,” said Rashid in an increasingly angry tone. “They think I didn’t go to school, I don’t know how to count.”

They do. Many workers from Bangladesh have up to ten years of schooling. It is the economic situation in their country, where jobs are scarce and wages low, that drives them out to work abroad, doing low-skilled work.

Eleven other workers had similar complaints and they have all lodged complaints with the Ministry of Manpower.

Unfortunately, cases like Rashid’s are not rare. TWC2 regularly hears of cases where employers calculate salaries in ways that violate the law or the employment contract they had made with workers. What was unusual about this one however, was that Rashid was employed by a large, multinational construction company. There is a belief that such companies would act ethically and responsibly, while smaller companies with uncertain cashflow might more readily resort to underhand practices, but either this belief is unfounded, or this company is the exception.

Another thing that was notable about Rashid’s story was that he was working very long hours. Twelve hours a day at a construction job is extremely tiring. At times, it even exceeded 12 hours, thus the dispute over the overtime rate which the employer (wrongly) said would kick in only then. Rashid also worked on Sundays and public holidays. Here again, this is not unusual.

This risk of industrial accidents rises when workers are made to work such long hours. This is another area where contractors routinely ignore the law.

While Rashid had reason to believe that right was on his side, the reality of having to survive with neither work nor money was a different matter. Having lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower, he is now left in limbo. He has not been assigned any work, but neither can he look for another job. Moreover, the process at the ministry is so opaque that he has no idea when his case will be resolved, if at all. He is stressed out and angry. And broke.