2 December 2013, Monday
Two designated contact persons from the Toh Guan group of ex-Menton staff come to the office to update and discuss the case with social workers Kenneth and Karno. Quite a few things have happened over the weekend.
Twenty workers have been paid $1,500 to $2,000 each, received air tickets and have flown home to Bangladesh. These had written claims of $2,500 to $3,000 in the claim column on a form that was tabled last week. (see events of Wed 27 Nov in Menton diary, Part 4). Exactly what their real owed amounts were is not clear, probably in the region of $3,000 or more, said the contact persons. If so, then the pay-out was about 50 percent of what they were owed in unpaid basic salaries and overtime.
The exact mechanics were explained to us. The men packed their belongings, went to the airport where agents of the insurance company were waiting for them with cash in hand. The men are not thrilled by this arrangement. They want cash before going to the airport so that they can buy some gifts for their families.
The workers asked TWC2 why this group got their money first. We couldn’t explain, since it was arranged through MOM. One possibility is that this group indicated that they were not interested in seeking transfer jobs, so their cases were easier to close. Another possibility might be that these were workers for whom security bonds (the $5,000 that had to be put up by the employer) came from one insurance company, which was quick to settle. But it’s just speculation on our part.
In any case we still do not understand why MOM is being so lenient. A condition of the bond — “That during their stay in Singapore, I/we shall be responsible for the prompt payment of salary” — has been violated. Why not seize the whole $5,000, and pay these workers in full?
For the record, here are relevant screenshots. At left are the information page ‘Work Permit – before you apply’ from MOM’s website and the formal text of the required security bond (from this link on MOM’s website) , both links accessed on 4 December 2013.
There are however eleven workers who were drawing relatively higher salaries, to whom the company owes more than $5,000. One of them calculated that he is owed around $12,000. How are they going to get anything close to what they are owed when the security bond is only $5,000? they ask.
Kenneth and Karno will monitor the situation and see how they can help.
We’re also told about a third subgroup, comprising ten workers who are making private arrangements with the boss of Menton to transfer to a company owned by the boss’ brother. We are short on details about what terms are being offered because we’re not in direct contact with any of these ten. Our understanding is that these negotiations are not even conducted through MOM; they seem to be directly between the boss and his brother on one side and the ten workers.
Kenneth asks the contact persons to try to convey to this group the need to clear in their negotiations. For example, does the opportunity to be hired by the boss’ brother’s company mean that they waive all claims on Menton? If so, then they will never get back what they were owed.
It is also apparent that MOM is allowing all workers to seek transfer jobs. Originally, Goh Kok Beng, the MOM case officer in charge, had told the men that only those who had worked less than six months in Singapore will be allowed to transfer; those who have worked more than six months must be repatriated. Now, because MOM considers them all “skilled workers”, this opportunity is being extended to all. But that’s only on paper.
The practical difficulty is where the men are going to find transfer jobs. Neither MOM nor TWC2 are employment agents and we aren’t in any position to recommend jobs.
Moreover, as TWC2 has argued so many times in the past, so long as the door to recruiting fresh workers from abroad remains wide open, what incentive is there for employers to hire transfer workers? This door must be partially closed.
With twenty men repatriated over the weekend, beds have been freed up at the Toh Guan dormitory. We are told that the men from the flophouses in Geylang have been moved into these beds.
Friday, 6 December 2013
A group comes to our office again with updates. More workers have since gone home. They received a bit more than the first group (reported above) — a bit over $2,000 per head. This is likely because their claims were also larger than the first group’s.
As of today, there are 26 workers still in Singapore. 17 of them have been tentatively accepted by Ntegrator, and the transfer is being processed. Of these 17, six have heard that their work permit applications have been approved; eleven more are pending. All 17, however, are moving to Ntegrator’s dormitory in Hougang.
Seven workers have not been accepted by Ntegrator for transfer. Hearsay is that “they are not skilled enough”, the other workers tell TWC2. They will remain at Menton’s Toh Guan dormitory for the time being, but unless they can find other transfer jobs, it looks like they too will be repatriated soon.
The two remaining workers did not want to be transferred to Ntegrator. Juwel and Liton will be going home tonight.
The group that is here in our office today raises concerns whether, after they are transferred to Ntegrator, there will still be active pursuit of their owed salary claims by MOM. Would MOM just neglect the matter once they start on a new job? We promise them that we will help remind MOM that there ought to be case continuity.
Our social worker Kenneth Soh emails MOM case officer Goh Kok Beng to convey the men’s concerns.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
Juwel and Liton phoned social worker Karno yesterday evening from the airport. They informed TWC2 that they received $2,000 each in cash at the airport at check-in time. Earlier, their calculations showed that they were owed around $6,000 in unpaid basic salaries and overtime. However, when MOM asked them to fill in their claim amounts in a form (see Diary part 4, 27 November) they each wrote $4,000.
Thus, in real terms, these two received only 33% of what they were really owed.
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Goh Kok Beng replies to Kenneth by email, saying that even though (some) workers are being transferred to new employees, their cases will continue to be progressed. Kenneth will relay this assurance to the men.