Following TWC2’s letter in the Straits Times Forum, 17 June 2015, Ensure pay is banked, offer mobility, the Ministry of Manpower’s response was published on 23 June 2015

Electronic payments mandatory upon foreign workers’ request

Mr Alex Au suggested that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) mandate electronic payment of salaries for foreign workers, and allow mobility for them to change employers (“Ensure pay is banked, offer mobility”; last Wednesday).

Our laws already require employers of work permit holders (WPHs) to pay salaries electronically if the workers make this request, and a majority of them are receiving their salaries in this manner. However, some WPHs still prefer to be paid in cash.

MOM takes a tough enforcement stance against employers who wilfully deny workers their salaries, whatever the mode of payment.

Victimised WPHs are typically given a two-week window to find new employers while their cases are being investigated.

Mr Au would know that the MOM has a history of working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Transient Workers Count Too, and has exercised flexibility for deserving cases.

For WPHs who are unable to – or in some cases, unwilling to – continue working, MOM will work with NGO partners to assist these workers until their cases are concluded, and facilitate their return home to start life anew.

Alvin Lim
Divisional Director
Workplace Policy and Strategy Division
Ministry of Manpower

TWC2 sent a further response to the newspaper the same day. However, the Straits Times has not published it. This is not unexpected; the mainstream media has a long history of giving the last word to the government however absurd their statements may be.

Unrealistic rights on paper provide no solution

Mr Alvin Lim’s letter (ST 23 June 2015, Forum) says that foreign workers can ask for their salaries to be paid electronically. While this option exists on paper, in reality any worker making such a request to a boss who is not inclined to accede, will likely lose his job and be repatriated. The structural imbalance of power between employers and workers, created by MOM’s own rules, render this “right” to electronic payment meaningless.

It’s hard to believe that MOM is not aware of this reality on the ground.

It is precisely why in my earlier letter, I said TWC2 has long argued for job mobility, as a redress to this power imbalance.

Mr Lim confirms what I also said, that even when MOM makes an exception and allows a worker to look for an alternative job, the worker is given only an absurdly short time of two weeks to do so.

Mr Lim says MOM takes a “tough enforcement stance” against employers who fail to pay salaries, but is silent on the point I made: Despite lodging complaints at MOM, the great majority of cases do not result in workers getting all their owed salaries. They only get a fraction, if anything at all. This cannot count as just and satisfactory resolution.

Alex Au
Transient Workers Count Too

Not mentioned in our letter is another point worth making. When it is convenient to do so, MOM relies on the argument that since a majority of cases aren’t problematic, there is no need to do anything about cases presenting an issue. Alvin Lim deployed this line when he said that the majority of migrant workers are receiving their salaries through bank giro.

This may be so, but it does not excuse the authorities from addressing the problem created by the relatively fewer errant employers.

After all, the majority of drivers are careful in observing speed limits, but we still have laws — and enforce them — against speeding and reckless driving.