Our letter published in the Straits Times Forum on 17 June 2015 mentioned that countries in the Middle East have made it mandatory to pay workers’ salaries through bank transfers when Singapore has not.
This note provides a bit more detail about this point.
In the United Arab Emirates, which comprises Dubai, Abu Dhabi and several other city states, the Ministerial Decree No. 788 of 2009, on the Protection of Wages is the relevant law.
Article 1 states that wages must be paid at least monthly, or more frequently if a contact so stipulates.
Article 2 states that employers must transfer “all its workers’ wages to the banks and financial institutions working in the UAE via the Wages Protection System (WPS).”
Article 5 further requires employers with 50 workers or more to submit a monthly declaration to the government (within two weeks of the wages due date) stating that wages have been paid in full without deductions. The wording of the declaration includes:
I declare that:
- All workers’ wages, as stated above, have been paid in full without any deductions that violate the provisions of the Labour Law.
- Non-payment of workers’ wages in certain cases is in accordance with the Labour Law and respective work contracts.
I also declare that all information mentioned above is correct and I understand that I may face civil and criminal liabilities for any of the information provided proves to be false.
Article 7 says the “authorized signatory” of the declaration is liable to civil and criminal penalties should the declaration be false; that is, the liability is personal, and he or she cannot hide behind a corporate front.
Besides the fact that failure to pay wages on time would be a breach of criminal law, Article 8 also imposes a ban on issuing new work permits for a period of time corresponding to whether it is a first or repeat violation. It also allows the government to extend the ban to other companies with the same owner or partners.
In Qatar, alJazeera reported 19 Feb 2015 that “Under the reforms, which were approved by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, employers will be required to pay migrant workers their wages through direct bank transfers so as to ensure payment accountability. ”
See also the 18 Feb 2015 report in Doha Times: Qatar Emir approves law mandating electronic wage payments for workers, which reports that
Under the new provisions, companies will be required to pay their employees through direct bank transfers, making it easier for expats and the government to scrutinize and document any late or non-existing payments.
Employees should be paid in Qatari currency once a month, or for some category of workers, every two weeks.
The exact mechanism is not yet clear, but is likely to be similar to UAE’s system.
In contrast, the Ministry of Manpower has yet to acknowledge the need for similar regulations, despite the tsunami of salary complaints they receive. As reported in the Sunday Times, 14 June 2015, around 4,500 workers lodged salary complaints at MOM in 2014. TWC2 believes this to be an underestimate of the scale of the problem. A survey we conducted showed that of about three-quarters million of male Work Permit holders,
- One third did not get their correct salaries paid on time
- One third believed their salaries were correct, but had no way to check since they received no detailed calculation
- One third could check and satisfy themselves that correct salaries were paid
Up to half a million low-wage male migrant workers potentially have a salary problem.
In the absence of any rules regarding modes of payment, smaller and less scrupulous employers tend to organise their payrolls around cash with no accompanying payslip. If a worker is not paid, his problem is how to prove this in the absence of any evidence. Employers have been known to brazenly claim to MOM that they had been paid, but in cash. Some have even submitted forged salary payment vouchers to the authorities, and MOM does not take any proactive steps to weed out this practice.
TWC2 argues that payment through bank transfer is the correct and badly needed solution. Bank statements provide an audit trail that makes the process a lot more transparent.
It is worth pointing out that Singapore law says:
If the foreign employee so requests, the foreign employee’s salary shall be paid through direct transfer into the foreign employee’s bank account in a bank established in Singapore. The employer shall maintain a record of the monthly salary paid to the foreign employee that is accessible to the foreign employee upon request and produce the record upon request by any public officer acting in his official capacity.
(This can be found in subsidiary legislation under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, to wit, the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, Fourth Schedule, Part II, Paragraph 5)
So, far, the MOM has not relied on this as rebuttal to calls for mandatory payment of salaries via bank transfer. It would be ludicrous if they did, since it should be well-known to them that should any worker have the temerity to ask for bank payment when his employer is not of a mind to do so, the worker is likely to get the sack. This also explains why salary payment reform, to be fully effective, should always come with job mobility for workers. Workers cannot assert their rights unless they have the freedom to walk away from their abusive employers to alternative jobs.