By Lisa Li
Before coming to Singapore, Kabir was promised that the job would pay $32 a day. But “when I start work , I no get 32 dollars, they pay only 28 dollars,” he tells Transient Workers Count Too.
“We hear of such problems quite frequently,” says TWC2 vice-president Alex Au. “Some employers take advantage of the fact that foreign workers would have paid large amounts as agent fees, and would not be in any position to object when the employer unilaterally lowers the salary.”
Kabir, 38, had paid his agent about $6,000 for a “two-year contract” as a fitter/welder with Prosper Oceanic Pte Ltd in Singapore. Fourteen months on, he is now jobless.
“It’s very difficult,” says Mohammad Kabir Uddin Khan Mohammad Abdul. Initially, he dealt with the issue in silence, and only confronted the company after five months. “I work and take 28 dollars [per day] for five months”, he says, “but the six(th) month I say to them I no take the money.”
To this act of protest, the company reacted strongly. Recalls Kabir: “They tell me ‘you want work , you work, or we send you back.'”
Somewhat amazingly, things remained like that for nine more months. The company continued to calculate his salary based on the lower rate, he said, and he continued to refuse to accept the money. But now, after working in Singapore for fourteen months, Kabir is currently facing the risk of returning home with none of what he is owed and more in debt than before.
“It’s very difficult, they all wait for me at home,” says Kabir again. “I have wife, two children, my parents, father, mother, and my brother, all waiting for me to pay. I also borrow money to come here.”
Salaries lowered, deductions raised
Besides the discrepancy in the salary rate, Kabir claims the company has overcharged him on lodging: “It say deduct $90 a month for rental on my IPA, but [in actual fact] they deduct $150 a month.” The IPA is the Letter of In-Principle Approval for work permit. It is issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to both employer and employee with the original terms of employment clearly stated there.
Kabir kept hoping that the company would eventually honour the promised terms, until things took a sudden turn for the worse one day. On 10 July 2013, he was alerted that some of his fellow workers were being laid off with no warning. “They call [them by] name to the office, give money, and say take, and send them back,” he tells TWC2. Expressing his worst fears, “I think maybe my name tomorrow!”
With much at stake, Kabir lodged a claim at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), only to realise that his work permit had already been terminated by his company. He has now been put on a Special Pass to legalise his continued stay in Singapore while his case is being resolved.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “This company many problem.” Altogether, he says there are seventeen workers from the same company who has sought relief via MOM.
A fellow worker, Hossain Mohammad Arif, says there are many more. “Over thirty,” he tells TWC2, though some of those are from a different, but similarly-named company.
Similar complaints by another worker
Another co-worker, Abdul Motin Mohammad Alauddin, 27, has complaints very similar to Kabir’s. He has also lodged reports at MOM. He says that the company has underpaid him for eleven months, with the most recent “three months no pay”. Motin is also unhappy with monthly deductions for accommodation and electricity. Showing us his IPA and a typical month’s pay-slip, he points out that the IPA indicates a “Monthly housing deduction” of $90. Yet, on his pay slip, the deduction is $107.50.
His IPA makes no mention of any deduction for electricity, yet his pay slip shows a deduction of $38.37 for “PUB” — which is commonly understood to stand for “Public Utilities Board”. There is also a $50 “cash savings” deduction, which is illegal.
Disappointing meeting at MOM
On 24 July 2013, MOM facilitated a meeting between the workers and one delegate from their company. The meeting, however, was disappointing to Kabir. “They say nothing. The office assistant come, the big boss never come.”
And so the men remain in limbo, without a job, without a place to stay. It is very hard to plan their next move.
“It’s very difficult, I never think anything,” laments Kabir again. He hasn’t fully cleared his debt for the agent’s commission. In fact, because he refused the wrongly-calculated salary through the past nine months, he has been borrowing from friends. “I borrow more 2,500 dollars from friends for stay (in Singapore)… also have about two or three thousand money need pay back home.”
As his special pass prohibits employment, Kabir ‘s current stay in Singapore is his most immediate difficulty. “I no have money for sleeping, no have money for food, no money go home.” All he can do is hope. “I think next one,” referring to his next appointment, “MOM will tell us the solution.”