We shall call the worker Towhid. He was paid less than promised through several months of work. After lodging a complaint at the Ministry of Manpower, his case went before the Labour Court, which strictly speaking is an administrative tribunal within the ministry, not a judicial court. Nonetheless, one would expect the tribunal to have within its rules of process a fair semblance of impartiality.

During the hearings, the employer presented various documents purported to be the salary vouchers. Copies were given to the Assistant Commissioner of Labour (“ACL”), who was presiding over the hearings, but none were given to Towhid even though Towhid was a party to the case.

Towhid, not permitted the help of a lawyer — MOM’s rules are that parties must represent themselves at the Labour Court for salary cases, and lawyers are not allowed — did not know that he was entitled to copies of whatever evidence being tendered. So he didn’t ask for them.

(This is one of the many ridiculous defects of the Labour Court system highlighted by TWC2’s research: expecting low-wage workers to know enough law to represent themselves at court.)

In the end, the Labour Court’s decision left Towhid very unhappy. It was only then that he came to TWC2 for help. On our advice, he decided to appeal the Labour Court decision to the High Court. We found him a pro-bono lawyer to assist.

The first order of business was to get all the items of evidence together. TWC2 wrote to MOM asking for copies of the salary vouchers. MOM asked for payment of $5 per page.

We protested, saying that they should have been given to Towhid as a matter of course during the Labour Court proceedings. Moreover, under Section 96 of the Employment Act (employers’ obligation in relation to pay slips), the employer should have provided those payslips at the time of salary payment.(So, wouldn’t the employer’s failure to do so constitute a criminal offence on the employer’s part? And what is MOM doing about it?)

Also, we pointed out that based on our experience helping other workers through the Labour Court, the workers were asked to provide two extra copies of all items of evidence — to be handed over to the ACL and the respondent (employer). Why not vice versa?

MOM’s reply was that the salary vouchers or payslips in Towhid’s case were “supposed to be provided by the employer and not by MOM to the worker”, implying that the ACL presiding over the Labour Court case had no responsibility to ensure this. If this is MOM’s standard of professionalism, it is very low indeed.

In the end, Towhid had no choice over the matter, and had to pay $80 to purchase copies of 16 documents. Documents which should have been given to him as a matter of right long ago now must be paid for. And how much does it cost for MOM to make black-and-white photocopies?

Zhao Hao is another pseudonym we’ll use. TWC2 has often observed that Chinese workers tend to have more fire in their bellies. Unlike Towhid, he came to consult us while his Labour Court case was ongoing.

He too faced a similar problem. His employer presented various salary documents at the hearing, with one set of copies made for the ACL. Zhao Hao protested strongly and said he too should be given copies. The ACL said he could take photos of the documents with his phone!

As the next hearing date approached, TWC2 was helping Zhao Hao collate his documents. We began photocopying three sets of all papers. Zhao Hao stopped us. “Make only two sets,” he insisted.

“If the employer wants a set, he can use his phone.”