Transient Workers Count Too’s letter in response to an article about foreign workers working illegally (Straits Times, Monday, 25 Nov 2013, summarised here) was published in the newspaper’s letters section on Friday 29 November.

This is the text of the letter:

Plug gaps in system to reduce illegal work

When injured or unpaid foreign workers work in the shadow economy, it may be easy to see their behaviour as the problem (“Workers find illegal jobs through informal network”; Monday). But it is the system that is the problem, and the workers rarely have any choice but to find work.

There are push and pull factors behind this.

In theory, injured workers on medical leave should be regularly paid two-thirds of their previous salary, so they can survive.

In practice, the Manpower Ministry often falls short in enforcing this, and workers are left with no income.

Another gap in the system is the lack of provision for workers who have recovered enough to be off medical leave, but have no job to return to while waiting for the compensation process to be completed. Currently, they are left destitute and homeless.

Transient Workers Count Too has proposed to the ministry that, for these cases, the existing rule that (previous) employers must provide “maintenance and upkeep” be rigorously enforced.

For simplicity, it should be monetised at two-thirds of their previous salary.

Workers with salary complaints, that is, those who have not been paid by their employers, may find themselves languishing as the salary dispute resolution proceeds slowly.

We have argued for a policy revamp, to allow these workers to find new transfer jobs quickly without having to be repatriated, even while their dispute with the previous employer is being worked out.

The flip side is that the Government needs to restrict the entry of fresh workers, so that existing ones looking for transfer jobs can get a reasonable shot at success.

The pull factor is the relatively attractive pay the shadow economy offers.

Partly, it reflects the risk of being caught by the law or being injured without insurance cover; it may also represent the market rate for low-skilled labour.

The rate offered by legitimate employers is artificially depressed, the result of excessive power given to employers to terminate a worker’s employment at any time and summarily send him home, after he has invested thousands of dollars to find a job here.

Fixing the flaws in the system is key to reducing illegal work: Ensure prompt payment of medical leave wages, enforce employers’ obligation for upkeep and maintenance, and permit workers to transfer freely to new jobs.

Russell Heng
Transient Workers Count Too



The same day, in the online section of the Straits Times Forum, two other letters were published.

Help workers who recover from injury be self-sufficient

I feel sorry for the foreign workers who are injured and waiting for their compensation (“Workers find illegal jobs through informal network”; Monday). Their work permits are cancelled and they are given special passes that do not allow them to work even if they have recovered.

Many of these workers have taken on big loans in order to come to Singapore to work.

With no income, how can they possibly support themselves, let alone pay off their loans?

These workers have to depend on non-governmental organisations or the public to help them cope with basic needs like food and lodging.

Some resort to illegal work or, if they are really desperate, turn to crime.

I urge the authorities to look into their plight. It should not be difficult to set up a centralised body to register the workers who have recovered from their injuries and are able to work.

Jobs and work passes should be granted to them to allow them to work for another employer while waiting for their compensation. This will not only allow them to become self-sufficient but also help in meeting our labour demands.

Lim Wan Keng (Ms)

Helpful and sympathetic hospital staff

On Nov 17, a Bangladeshi worker was taken to the Singapore General Hospital’s accident and emergency department for a lacerated tendon in his right hand and saw a hand surgeon on Nov 19.

His company supervisor confiscated the hospital documents, including the medical certificates, discharge summary and the doctor’s note indicating that the worker would need two to three months of treatment.

Without these documents, the worker would not be able to lodge an incident report or a work injury compensation claim.

The hospital receptionists and nurses permitted him to see the surgeon on Nov 20 without an appointment to get copies of the documents. They also did not request payment.

I thank the hospital staff for being understanding, sympathetic and helpful.

Deborah D. Fordyce (Ms)

The Ministry of Manpower’s reply to all three letters was published on Thursday, 5 December 2013:

Measures in place to help injured workers

Eemployers are responsible for a worker’s upkeep and maintenance during the entire work injury compensation claim process, and these include providing adequate food, ensuring acceptable housing, and paying any medical leave wages and medical bills (“Help workers who recover from injury be self-sufficient” by Ms Lim Wan Keng and “Helpful and sympathetic hospital staff” by Ms Deborah D. Fordyce, both published in Forum Online last Friday; and “Plug gaps in system to reduce illegal work” by Transient Workers Count Too president Russell Heng, last Friday).

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will take action against employers who fail to fulfil their responsibilities.

To further help injured foreign workers who have recovered and are fit to work, but are no longer employed, the MOM is piloting a Temporary Job Scheme. This allows foreign workers, while awaiting the resolution of their work injury compensation claims, to take up employment on a temporary basis until the conclusion of their cases.

We are reviewing the pilot and welcome input from various parties on how this can, as much as it is realistically possible, help more injured foreign workers secure employment.

Nevertheless, we reiterate that it is illegal for foreigners to work in Singapore without a valid work permit. Unless approval has been obtained from the ministry, workers on Special Passes awaiting the resolution of their work injury compensation claims are not allowed to work.

Doing so would potentially increase the risk to the workers’ well-being. It also gives errant employers an unfair advantage by circumventing work pass obligations. The MOM takes a very serious view of workers and employers who break the law.

We are in contact with Ms Fordyce on her complaint about an employer who confiscated a worker’s medical documents. We remind employers that they should not withhold medical documents from their workers.

The MOM advises employers and workers to be responsible during the work injury compensation claim process, so that all parties can benefit from a fair and expeditious system.

We urge workers whose employers are not fulfilling their obligations, or who want to sign up for the Temporary Job Scheme, to approach MOM or call us on 6438-5122 for help.

Woon Cheng Peng
Deputy Director, Work Injury Compensation Department
Ministry of Manpower