Martin* was on his second day at his new job. He was employed as a construction worker, but he had let his boss know that he held a Singapore driving licence. His boss asked him to drive a lorry. Martin hit another car; the lorry suffered scratches. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Some days later, the boss told him he had to pay the cost of repairs for both vehicles. For the car alone, $8,000 would be deducted from his salary over several months. Since his fixed monthly salary (before taking overtime into account) would be $1,600, he could well suffer five months without pay. The cost of repairing the lorry was still not known. More deductions would follow for that.

Wait a minute…. what about motoring insurance?

The whole point of motoring insurance is to cover such eventualities and costs. The employer should not be out of pocket; the insurer is there to cover the costs. Hence, demanding that the worker pay is indefensible. One cannot help but suspect that it’s a ruse to extract money from the employee and make him provide five months of free labour.

Perhaps the employer didn’t insure his lorry. But, if so, it was his decision to act this way. Any liability as to accident costs should then be his to bear, not the worker’s.

What is even more interesting is that right after the accident occurred someone from the car workshop had estimated that repairs to the car would cost around $2,000, according to Martin. Was the figure of $8,000 that the boss wanted to deduct from his salary plucked from thin air?

When the boss told Martin that $8,000 would be deducted from his salary, the worker was about two weeks into his job. He protested and decided to resign — the most obvious thing to do. He sent in a resignation letter giving one day’s notice (as per the law in the case of new employees) and submitted it by hand to his boss. “Boss say he will not accept,” reported Martin.

Is that possible? Must resignations require consent by employers? He didn’t know.

At TWC2, we assured him that once a letter of resignation was submitted, it would start to take effect after a proper period of notice. No employer has any choice on the matter. To help him, we sent a further copy to the company on his behalf.

Nonetheless, the boss would not allow the matter to rest. In conversation with TWC2, he hinted that he would make police reports alleging that Martin took the vehicle without permission (“grand theft auto”) and that he left the scene of the accident (“hit-and-run”). In messages he sent to Martin, he accused him to being “missing in action” and working illegally outside. The subtext would be that police reports might be made over these allegations thereby initiating criminal prosecution.

Fortunately, Martin had enough evidence in hand to refute such accusations should the employer make a police report. There were clear instructions through WhatsApp or Wechat showing that it was the boss himself who told him to drive the lorry. The traffic police statement about the accident indicated clearly that Martin was right there at the scene. Moreover, we at TWC2 were meeting with him in our office almost every day even as the employer was accusing him of working illegally outside.

But beyond the details of this case, what it shows is how difficult it is for a foreign worker to do something as simple as to resign. Some employers see resignations by employees as an intolerable affront. In retaliation, much time and effort is invested in creating trouble for the worker — even when the accusations are likewise plucked out of thin air.

*name changed. The same worker is now back in Singapore with a new job, and we do not wish to jeopardise it.