In her column published 6 July 2014 in the Sunday Times, Radha Basu highlighted the fact that many foreign workers in Singapore are still being paid at the ridiculous rate of $2 per hour. In preparing her article, she was provided evidence of this by Transient Workers Count Too, in the form of a pay slip for a worker we assisted recently. This article will provide additional details of that payslip in question.

Actually, this wasn’t the first time. We had previously shown the journalist payslips of other workers with even lower salaries.

Radha Basu wrote:

The Sunday Times has been shown payslips of workers who still earn $2 or less an hour for construction or marine work, which is physically demanding, difficult and dangerous.

The poorest Singaporean workers, meanwhile, can easily earn $5 or more an hour – $40 a day – for jobs that are far less demanding. This yawning gap must be narrowed.

To make up for the low pay and recover their recruitment costs as quickly as they can, workers often have no choice but to put in long hours. The Sunday Times saw a payslip of a worker, who returned home last week, showing that he worked an average of 13 hours every day in May – without a single day off. His net pay? $781.

This shipyard worker’s hands can be seen in the picture above. He’s holding his May 2014 salary which TWC2 helped him collect. Let’s call him by his initials “SK”. Below is the payslip for the month of May 2014 with names blanked out. We have marked four (red) spots worthy of further comment.


Red spot #1: This is his rate per hour — $2, as Radha Basu pointed out in her column.

Red spot #2: He racked up 474 “pay-hours” for this month. He didn’t actually work 474 hours, because his overtime hours are rated higher than $2.

How do we know these are pay-hours and not clock-hours? Because for Monday, 12 May, a figure of 29 hours is shown, which is impossible by the clock. If we assume that the employer paid the correct overtime rate of 1.5 times, and the appropriate Sunday (& public holiday) rate of 2.0 times, then working backwards from the payhours, we can obtain the total number of clockhours he worked:


As you can see from the table, SK worked all 31 days of May, totalling 359 clock-hours. About 184 of these were normal work hours, and 175 were extra hours. This violates the Employment Act which stipulates a legal maximum of 72 extra hours a month. Extremely long working hours lead to fatigue which increases the risk of accidents, a point made only two days earlier in an article in TODAY newspaper (see mention at Building boom leading to more workplace injuries) that highlighted the increase in fatalities and injuries.

sk_salary_paycutRed spot #3: There is a very strange deduction of $80 a month, followed by a “cash advance”of $50 a month. They remain unexplained, but they resemble something that TWC2 hears from many workers: an arbitrary “savings money” deduction and/or a “renewal money” deduction.  $80 x 12 months and $50 x 12 months in effect mean the employer claws back nearly $1,600 from each worker in the form of illegal deductions a year. There will be a further discussion of “savings money” deduction when we present the results of our 2013/2014 salary survey in an upcoming article.

Red spot#4: There is also a $37 deduction for water and electricity. TWC2 is of the view that such a figure is way beyond the actual cost of such utilities consumed per worker, and that this is more likely than not also a device for clawing money back from workers.

However, the interesting thing is this: This worker was provided a payslip that is of commendable clarity — something that TWC2 has long been urging the Ministry of Manpower to make mandatory. It is precisely this degree of transparency that allows the worker (and us) to satisfy himself that the employer, albeit basing on a ridiculously low rate of pay, has calculated overtime pay correctly. At the same time, it also makes clear where violations occur, which is exactly why it is important for the ministry to make this quality of payslips mandatory.

As Radha Basu pointed out in her column:

Workers like him can at least get some redress if they are short-changed because they have documentary proof in the form of payslips. However, payslips are not mandatory yet and a recent survey of 328 workers by TWC2 found that one- third of them had not been paid their dues. The bulk of the problems involved illegal deductions.

The results of that salary survey can be found here at One third of male migrant workers aren’t paid what they’re due.