Following the launch of TWC2’s research report yesterday (see Labour protection for the vulnerable: challenges and recommendations), the Straits Times carried two stories Friday (30 June 2017) almost filling up all of page B4.
The newspaper noted that our research study found “significant obstacles and uneven enforcement” that prevent migrant workers from getting justice, in what was meant to be a speedy, low-cost system.
But the mediation process “fails to take into consideration the unequal bargaining power of workers vis-a-vis employers”, resulting in the workers getting coerced by employers to sign documents and accept unfair employment terms.
The claims process is also problematic in evidence gathering and enforcement, said the report. “Workers lack access to the evidence required to substantiate their claims, while employers are accused of manipulating evidence to their advantage.”
— Straits Times, 30 June 2017, NGO study finds ‘gaps in Labour Court system’. Link.
It highlighted TWC2’s recommedations in a prominent sidebar.
The full report (in pdf) can be downloaded: Link to pdf version
Just below its main story about the research report, the Straits Times told of the plight of two Bangladeshi workers who despite having received Labour Court awards for unpaid salary in their favour, have still not received payment. Alam Ataur Rahman and Islam Mohammad Rubayet were owed $19, 152 by their former employer Zach Engineering Services. Three other employees are similarly owed money. TWC2 had tried to assist them in 2016 but with the deficiencies in the regulatory system as highlighted in the research report — in particular, the absence of any effective enforcement mechanism — were unable to achieve much headway.
Titled “No Hari Raya joy for two workers”, the story noted that the company had appealed the Labour Court order to the High Court but the company and its owners now appear to be uncontactable.
Among the recommendations our research report put forward were these, found on pages 61 and 66:
- Create a fund to compensate migrant workers when employers fail to pay judgments and orders. The researchers advised that this fund can be established from the foreign worker levy, security bond, or other fees. Levy fees could continue to be charged of employers after a worker’s Work Permit is cut but before the claim is resolved and used to establish such a fund. In Hong Kong, the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund provides payment of amounts owed to employees, including migrant workers, if employers wind up their companies.
- Create a dedicated unit and no-cost mechanism to help Work Permit holders enforce judgments. Researchers highlighted a suggestion from former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong that the costs borne by the unit for rendering such services could be recoverable from employers as legal expenses that can be used to fund this unit’s operations. Additional ideas include requiring employers to deposit a minimum sum or a percentage of the claim amount to MOM or a Public Trustee.
- Additionally, require employers to pay judgments and orders directly to MOM or a Public Trustee and extend liability for judgments and orders to company directors in exceptional circumstances. The researchers suggested that directors should only be held personally liable for sanctions if they refuse to pay a judgment or order, or for example, where it becomes apparent that they were not acting in good faith, and had no reasonable commercial grounds for believing their actions would benefit the company.