The staff at Transient Workers Count Too are used to hearing female voices with a Filipino accent asking for help over their difficulties, but this call was different. Evangelina (not her real name) was speaking about a “him” in trouble.
“His employer has taken him out of Singapore, to Malaysia,” she said. The anxiety in her voice was unmistakable.
The domestic worker was referring to her brother, aged 26, who was also working in Singapore, having arrived just a month earlier. Teodoro (not his real name) has a bachelor’s degree in science, but was now being made to clean pet cages every morning, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to do so.
But that was the least of it. Much of the hiring arrangement was also wrong. According to the documents TWC2 saw, he was employed as a senior sales executive under an S Pass. The monthly salary declared to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in order to obtain the S Pass was $2,000, the minimum for this grade. However, Teodoro’s salary was only $700 a month, though whether he entered into this arrangement with his eyes open or only found out about the lower pay after he arrived here, is something that is hard to verify. In any case, he had not even received his first month’s pay.
Secondly, he had started work with the company almost immediately, without first collecting the S Pass from MOM. Nonetheless, before long, the employer told him he was “unfit” for the job.
Teodoro was then asked to pay the company $1,300, being the “early termination penalty”, money that he didn’t have. Vague threats that the company would “take action” if he didn’t fork out the money were issued. The employer also began to call Evangelina asking her to pay up on behalf of her brother, calls that got more persistent over time. Eventually, she found the harassment intolerable and stopped taking those calls, reaching out to TWC2 instead.
Within the same day, the sister discovered that her brother had been taken across the causeway to Malaysia. Things were beginning to spiral out of control. She began to fear for his safety.
Fortunately, he was brought back to Singapore within a few hours, but even so, remained locked up at the employer’s place for several days afterwards. He could no more escape from his “cage” as the animals. There’s a law against such coerced confinement, though as this case shows, employers don’t have much fear of it.
TWC2’s guess was that the employer took him to Malaysia because Teodoro’s social visit pass was due to expire. They could have collected the S Pass from MOM, which was ready and waiting, and which would have regularised a long-term stay for him, but it seemed that the employer was not of a mind to. Getting him across the border and back again for another 30 days on a social visit pass was the boss’ preferred route.
Still, the calls to Evangelina continued, none of which she picked up. But she couldn’t help seeing the text messages that arrived on her phone, e.g. one that read: “I would like to know the repayment plan for the money he owed my company.”
A later message said: “Hv u worked out the payment plan for me? Reply asap otherwise I will seek other ways.”
Through Evangelina, TWC2 managed to explain to Teodoro the options and ask which he wanted. Did he want to go back home and forget about the salary? Did he want to fight for the first month’s unpaid salary and complain about the salary discrepancy vis-a-vis the S Pass application? TWC2 explained to him that MOM’s processes are extremely slow, and that if he lodged a complaint about unpaid salary or the salary discrepancy, MOM might hold him in Singapore for months while they investigated the matter, with no guarantee of successful resolution. In the meantime, he would not be allowed to work, going by the experience of other workers who have lodged salary claims. He might languish here penniless and homeless like hundreds of others TWC2 has on our register at any given time.
Teodoro chose not to mention the salary issues. All he wanted was to get out of the employer’s clutches and go back to the Philippines. And so, with TWC2’s help, MOM got in touch the employer, who quickly promised to purchase an airticket for him.
Yet the question cannot be so easily dismissed: Was this outcome a just one?
Is it fair that the employer got one month’s free manual labour from a man? Is it right that the ministry’s processes are so cumbersome and slow that people give up their rightful claims instead of getting what they are due, and that the cost of pursuing one’s rightful claims are so high that in practice, workers cannot get any justice? Is the company going to get away scot-free despite its attempt to cheat the system by using an S Pass to hire a manual worker?
客工亦重的职员已经习惯每天接到求救电话, 而这些电话通常是那些操着菲律宾口音的女性声音, 申诉要求帮助解决她们的问题。但是这通电话跟往常的不一样。爱文各丽娜 (Evangelina, 非真名) 诉说着”他”所遇到的麻烦。
“他”是指爱文各丽娜的哥哥, 二十六岁的提多儿 (Teodoro, 非真名) 。提多儿一个月前抵达新加坡。拥有理学学士学位的他, 却被雇主要求每天早上4点半起身, 开始打扫宠物笼子。
不仅如此，招聘安排也有问题。 根据客工亦重所收到的文件, 提多儿在S 准证 (S Pass) 的规定下是以高级销售执行员 (Senior Sales Executive) 的身份被聘请。新加坡人力部 (Ministry of Manpower) 规定持有S 准证其最低薪水要求为2000元。 但提多儿现有的薪水仅700元。至于他是自愿接受这个安排还是来新之后才发现, 这点我们无法确认。而且, 他第一个月的薪水至今仍未拿到。
第二，他在还未拿到S 准证之前已经开始为公司工作。不久后, 提多儿被告之自己不适合此工。
公司要求提多儿缴付1,300元的罚金,当作是提前终止合约的款项。由于提多儿无能力交付，雇主便威胁说,如果不能付款就会采取行动。 爱文各丽娜也屡次接到电话,要求帮哥哥付款,电话的次数变得越来越频繁。 持续不断的骚扰让她烦不胜烦，最后她决定寻求客工亦重的帮助。
幸运的是, 提多儿在几个小时内又被带回了新加坡。事后, 雇主把提多儿关在公司里,好几天都不允许他出去。提多儿就像被关在笼子里的宠物一样,无法逃跑,寸步难行。
客工亦重怀疑提多儿之所以被带到了马来西亚,可能是因为他的社交访问准证 (Social Visit Pass) 快要过期。提多儿在前是由S 准证的身份来新,而雇主应当向人力部领取其准证,这样一来提多儿就能够合法地在新加坡长期居住和工作。
在此期间, 爱文各丽娜还是接连不断地接到骚扰电话,这些电话她都不予理会。尽管如此,她仍无法阻止这类的骚扰短信。 例如,有两则短信是这样写道:
“我想知道你哥哥欠我的钱什么时候能还?” “你安排好付款了吗? 快回话,要不然我会采取其他办法。”
客工亦重解释说, 要是人力部介入调查,其过程相当缓慢, 而人力部也有可能要求提多儿在新加坡逗留数月以协助调查，其结果也无法保证。
但事情不能就这么一了了之。 客工亦重想问: 事情结果公平吗?
雇主得到了一个月的免费劳力, 而当客工想为自己争取应有的权益时,又因为人力部冗长的调查过程 而选择放弃。如此高的精神和经济代价，让客工的自身利益得不到丝毫保障。而雇主却能用瞒世欺人的手段逍遥法外。