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21 November 2013, Thursday

First thing this morning, our social workers call the Menton workers from Geylang, whom we met yesterday, to ask if they had a place to sleep last night and whether breakfast has been catered. They say Yes to both.

We’re glad to hear that. This means MOM has delivered on its promise to pressure the employer to live up to his obligations.

Yet another batch of workers come in today for consultation. It’s smaller than yesterday’s record-breaking size, and we’re relieved. After topping up so many workers’ EZ-Link cards over the past two days and buying meals on Tuesday, our Petty Cash Box is empty. Actually it’s in deficit. We’ve been using our own personal money to pay too. Accounts Officer Christina Chng has to quickly organise replenishment and reimbursement.

With today’s batch, we once again have to top up their EZ-Link cards and buy lunch. We decide to order from Siti’s Malay food stall in the adjacent building. Each pack to have rice, chicken and vegetables, we tell Siti. Hearing that the meals are meant for migrant workers, she gives us extra-large portions of rice and throws into each pack a wedge of egg omelette; it’s free, she says.

Andrew Loh from The Online Citizen comes in around noon. He dives straight into interviewing the workers. You can read his article here.

Because today’s batch of workers are from the Toh Guan dormitory, Andrew takes the trouble to go to Geylang after he’s done with the batch in our office, to speak with the workers housed there to find out about problems that may be unique to this group. As he leaves, TWC2 vice-president Alex asks him for a favour. “When you see the guys at Geylang, could you ask them whether they have had lunch delivered to them?”

Menton rents rooms in a few houses in Geylang to house its workers.

Menton rents rooms in a few houses in Geylang to house its workers.

Later that afternoon, Andrew calls back to confirm that the guys have eaten. That’s what civil society and a free media are for (among other things):  to monitor the performance of our government.

Back in the office, TWC2 social worker Nor Karno sets to work again, instructing the group who came today how to calculate their owed salaries.

Halfway through, we hear from the men that MOM case officer Goh Kok Beng had been in contact with one them last night, and that a better offer may be in the works. We reach Sohel by phone to find out more. While things are still vague, there seems to be some suggestion that the employer Menton Technologies will be “paid” over the next few days, and this will enable the company to pay the workers. The men’s hopes have climbed several notches, but we try to bring them down to earth. “Nothing is certain, yet,” we remind them.


22 November 2013, Friday

There’s still nothing in the Straits Times. The men phone in to ask Karno about it, but he can’t explain why.

Alex knows why. Our mainstream media feel constrained about carrying a story without including a response from the government. The story needs to lead with the government’s perspective; better yet, the story should cast the government as saviour and hero.

That the story has not appeared indicates that MOM has not yet replied to Straits Times’ enquiry. It often happens that officials will not respond to media enquiries until they have made sufficient progress in the matter, so that their reply can consist of a boast that they have saved the day.


A batch of workers from Prosper Oceanic who approached TWC2 earlier this year

Some of the workers from Prosper Oceanic and Prosper Environmental who approached TWC2 earlier this year

No batch of Menton workers is scheduled to come in today. We need to attend to other workers, including one guy from another company called Prosper Oceanic. Several batches of workers from the Prosper group of companies complained to MOM around the middle of this year about non-payment of salaries. About 30 of them came to TWC2 for help. We have stories about them on this site.

1. Phone call: Fourteen workers told to get off the bus

2. Over a year, the difference between $18 and $25 adds up to a lot of money

3. Kabir refuses wrongly-calculated salary for nine months, now no job at all

A few of the guys featured in the first article (Fourteen workers, etc) was briefly held by strong-armed repatriation agents trying to send them home before they could lodge complaints at MOM. TWC2 had to intervene to free them.

Amelia Tan from the Straits Times finally calls with good news. The story will run tomorrow, she says. MOM has replied, she tells us, providing additional information. The total number of affected workers from Menton is now 109 and this company was fined $10,000 for the earlier instance (July this year) of not paying salaries on time. She has also learned that Ntegrator terminated its contract with Menton in September.

We go back to the men: “Did you have work in September and October?”

“Yes,” they all say, with lots of overtime too.

“Were they OpenNet projects?”

“Yes,” the men say. Something doesn’t quite gel. If Ntegrator terminated their contract with Menton in September, why was there still work to be done?


Today’s news include a report that the Open Net consortium (which includes Singtel and Singapore Technologies) has been fined $750,000 by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) for “service breaches” in the first six months of 2013. IDA said Open Net “could not provide optical fibre services at certain locations in Singapore.”

One cannot help but wonder what effect this will have. When the principals of the OpenNet project have to pay the government $750,000, do they start delaying due payments to their contractors? If so, won’t the contractors be short of money to pay their workers?

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