Accompanying this introduction is a six-part series of articles that spotlights the In-Principle Approval for a Work Permit (“IPA”), a key document in the import of foreign labour into Singapore. Behind the document is a process that, over time, has shown several weaknesses. What began as a document and process with a laudable aim —  to better assure migrant workers that the jobs said to be waiting for them in Singapore were real — over time became tools of misrepresentation as the weaknesses of the document and process were exploited.

Moreover, the document began to be used for a purpose it was never designed for: resolution of salary disputes. Since this was never its intended purpose, it made a poor fit with the demands put on it.

Parts 1 to 5 of this series will recall some of the problems with the IPA that have surfaced over the years, and the Ministry of Manpower’s (“MOM”) responses (if any) to them. Difficulties have been compounded by MOM’s relative slowness in response – a common feature of huge bureaucratic organisations over-invested in their own legacy processes.

The concluding Part 6 anticipates some of the future challenges that will need solutions.

This series of articles will be full of detail, citing real cases that TWC2 has come across, and drawing insights from them. But amidst the detail, one salutary lesson can be glimpsed. The IPA, like so many government policies in Singapore, was meant primarily to serve the needs of the State. It was established as a way to minimise illegal immigration that might happen if prospective workers were misled (while in their home countries) about jobs in Singapore. In other words, it was essentially a border control measure. It was never intended as something that offered protection to workers except incidentally.

But workers were going to need protection, especially when Singapore’s guest worker programme was built on a employer-sponsorship model and when racking up huge debts to buy jobs in Singapore became the norm in sending countries. Much of narrative in Parts 1 to 6 are about how the IPA came to be used for this incidental purpose of providing protection for workers. Therein is a kind of morality tale: about how an entire State bureaucracy was so focussed on serving the needs of the State, it overlooked designing a process to serve the people, and when demands to do so became impossible to ignore, it creaked and groaned as it tried to respond.


Part 1

  • Language and late passing
  • A very contingent market solution

Part 2

  • Salary terms
  • Regulatory confusion
  • Adding to the mess: opacity, forgery and witnesses with conflicts of interests
  • Widening purpose of the IPA and refusal to provide reprint
  • High Court ruling changed everything

Part 3

  • Getting around IPAs in salary disputes
  • Brazenly disavowing the salary figure in the IPA
  • Forged payment vouchers and contracts
  • Doctored IPAs
  • System defect?
  • Changes coming

Part 4

  • MOM begins at last to respond to changing circumstances
  • The Employment Claims Tribunal
  • Missteps on the way to unearthing the original IPA salary

Part 5

  • Section 6A requirement
  • New form: “Your employer reduced your salary”
  • Notification to the worker notwithstanding, it was all ‘not allowed’ anyway
  • Major policy change: no more reduction from IPA salary

Part 6

  • Where we are now
  • Transfer workers
  • Renewed work permits