Our earlier story on the Everglory Construction case (The Everglory scam: productivity incentive shot to pieces) caught the attention of the press. Today Weekend (a newspaper) carried a story titled “Efforts to raise quality of construction workforce hamstrung by dishonest firms” on 8 July 2017, based on our exposé. The newspaper article can be found at this link: http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/efforts-raise-quality-construction-workforce-hamstrung-dishonest-firms
Although the headline diverted the gaze from the failings at the Ministry of Manpower — putting too much of a negative gaze on government actions is not something that mainstream media are keen on doing — the newspaper nonetheless reported, in its second paragraph, that
TWC2 called for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to follow the letter of the law and not allow employers to reduce salaries below what were declared in the foreign workers’ in-principle approval (IPA) document, which contains employment details given by the MOM before a migrant labourer arrives in Singapore. In addition, the Labour Court “should not legitimise arbitrarily-reduced salaries” by taking the employer’s word that the lower salary had been agreed to by workers, even verbally, said a TWC2 spokesperson.
The above looked like it was based on a written reply we gave to Today, though in paraphrasing, some level of explanatory detail might have been sacrificed. The newspaper asked in email, and we said,
How is the Everglory/’R1 scam’ case different from underpayment/non-payment cases TWC2 encountered previously?
To succeed in this scam requires MOM’s Labour Court to act in a certain way. If, on hearing workers’ claims, the Labour Court had insisted that employers should honour the salaries (e.g. $1,600 per month or more) that had been declared in the In-principle Approval for Work Permit (“IPA”: a letter that MOM sends to both employer and employee prior to the worker arriving in Singapore), the scam wouldn’t work. The employers would not get away with reducing the men’s salaries.
The scam works because the Labour Court now routinely takes the employer’s word that the lower salary had been agreed to by workers, even verbally. When workers protest that they had never agreed to a lower salary, the Labour Court generally dismisses their point of view. By establishing a pattern of regularly taking the employer’s side in salary disputes, employers then have an opportunity to carry out a scam like this, confident that their arbitrarily reduced salaries will be legitimised by the Labour Court even if workers lodge complaints at MOM.
There was one not-quite-accurate sentence in Today’s story however. The newspaper wrote of the workers, “they were unable to get the money owed to them in salary arrears despite successfully obtaining a Labour Court order.” As our earlier story made clear, they were unsuccessful in getting the Labour Court to acknowledge their full claims.
Further down, the newspaper wrote:
The five workers involved in the case highlighted by TWC2 returned home in March and April because they were unable to find another employer here, said the MOM. They received “ex gratia financial assistance” from the labour movement-backed Migrant Workers’ Centre, the MOM added, although it did not provide the sums received by the workers.
TWC2 does not know how much the “ex-gratia” payment from MWC was either, but going by what we’ve heard from other salary non-payment cases, it might be something in the region of $1,000 per person, a far cry from the the tens of thousands owed to the workers by their employer. In any case, this is hardly the best approach. One can quite validly argue that we shouldn’t be using tax-payer money to make up for deficiencies in the regulatory system. We should fix the system.
Today Weekend’s story carried interesting new information.
When TODAY visited the Jurong West Street 93 unit which is listed as Ms Huang’s address on Acra records, an occupant Ms Hu Huijie, 32, said Ms Huang did not live there and she was her schoolmate from Nanyang Technological University. Both of them were from China originally, and she had agreed for Ms Huang to state the unit as her address. They last met at Christmas last year but Ms Hu has been unsuccessful in contacting her friend since.
Aware of Everglory’s difficulties, Ms Hu said MOM officers had turned up at the flat once last month but Ms Huang was not there.
How did someone who might not have had a proper residential address in Singapore and who had to “borrow” an address, set up a company? How did such a company get permission to hire foreign workers?
Another question worth asking: What else is MOM doing to track down the two Chinese nationals who set up the company and then carried out the scam? Have they absconded out of Singapore? Is it really that easy to get away with not paying salaries?