On 13 May 2016, a report in the Straits Times said that “Companies found lacking in workplace safety and health standards will now face stiffer penalties, including a longer minimum period in which they have to stop work.”

“Stop-work orders will now last at least three weeks, up from two previously. Companies slapped with a stop-work order or found with a workplace fatality will also risk having their work pass privileges temporarily curtailed, making them unable to hire new foreign workers until they have resolved safety issues.”

TWC2’s John Gee wrote to the Straits Times to highlight the need to ensure that workers do not become innocent victims of this. His letter was published 19 May 2016.


Ensure workers don’t end up paying the price

Straits Times Forum, 19 May 2016

After the recent spate of accidents in the construction sector, the announcement by Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan is a welcome move (“Stiffer penalties for workplace safety lapses“; last Friday).

There is one problem, though, with the use of a three-week stop-work order (instead of the previous two weeks) on errant firms.

An extra week of halted work may cost these firms “tens of thousands in salaries paid”, but, as with any stop-work order, it may also result in lost income for the workers, who are the innocent parties in such cases.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower regulations, employers are under obligation to pay their workers their basic salaries, even when they are not working.

Unfortunately, migrant workers employed in the construction sector normally have low basic salaries and rely heavily on overtime work to compensate for that.

For example, a worker paid $3 an hour should receive about $528 in a four-week month. But, if he works the whole of the legal overtime permitted under the Employment Act and is duly paid for that, he will stand to earn a further $324.

He will lose a quarter of that for each week of a stop-work order.

Shouldn’t errant employers be obliged to pay workers not only their basic pay, but also their expected pay, based on their normal levels of overtime work and payment?

That will be fairer to workers and will be an additional disincentive to employers who do not take the safety of workers seriously enough.

Otherwise, further steps to enhance safety would be to increase the number of unannounced inspections of worksites, and for there to be a union-backed safety officer on every worksite who can intervene, with the full support of his union, whenever he observes a safety violation, whether to chide a negligent worker or to press an employer to act responsibly.

John Gee
Research Sub-Committee
Transient Workers Count Too