By Grace Chua, based on an interview in August 2018
It has been three months since Rahman Mostafizur filed a salary claim with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Having started work in March 2017, he was dismayed to note that his salary was unilaterally reduced throughout the fourteen months of employment. Before joining Kah Development Pte Ltd, he was given a document called an In-Principle Approval for a Work Permit (“IPA”) which showed a basic monthly salary of $1,800.
The IPA is generated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), based on details provided by the employer when applying for a work permit. Singapore’s High Court has ruled (in Liu Huaixi v Haniffa Pte Ltd  SGHC 270) that in the absence of any other evidence, the salary declared on an IPA shall be taken to “reflect the true salary”.
Despite the IPA stating that he would be getting a basic salary of $1,800 — before overtime pay — in reality, Rahman was given an arbitrarily-determined monthly salary ranging from $950 to $1,000.
Rahman attempted to approach the supervisor to discuss this persistent reduction to which he had not consented. “Talking to supervisor. Supervisor say next month give. But no give,” he says matter-of-factly while shaking his head with disapproval.
When the matter was raised a second time, Rahman was confronted with his worst fear: repatriation. Encumbered with debts he had racked up to pay recruitment agents for this job, Rahman felt utterly helpless.
“[When I] again ask. Supervisor say cancel permit go back. What I do? I take bank money. $3,300 agent money. What I do?” he asks, with exasperation lingering in his voice.
Rahman decided to file a salary claim at MOM on 2 June 2018. He thought the matter could be settled quickly especially has he has his copy of the IPA in hand. As it has turned out however, this step would suspend him in a state of limbo for the next three months.
“First time go [on] date two, June. Complain. Many many time I go [to MOM],” he explains.
Rahman also came to TWC2 for assistance. With our help, he calculated that he was owed over $28,000 in salary arrears.
Quite early in the mediation process at MOM, the company admitted that they did owe him money, but arrived at a different total: around $24,000. Rahman cannot explain to us how this figure was arrived at, but he was willing to accept the lowered amount to expedite the settlement of the case.
The company then produced a document confirming the agreement and it was signed in front of an MOM officer, Rahman says. “Company give paper. MOM tell me this one short money. I signed,” he utters, sounding slightly crestfallen. The company didn’t give him a copy of this signed agreement. This was in June.
“What happened next? Did the company pay?” I inquire.
“Never pay. Three months’ wait. June to now. Makan [meals] money also never pay. No work [either].”
He is still waiting.
TWC2’s social worker handling this case explains that the maximum claim that can be handled at MOM’s Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Mediation (TADM) process is $20,000. So, the agreed figure of $24,000 probably created a process problem which may explain why the case went into limbo.
There does not seem to be any set procedure for certifying a mutual agreement when the amount exceeds TADM’s own maximum.
It should also be noted that during the public consultation phase before the introduction of the Employment Tribunals Act — the relevant legislation here — TWC2 had argued that the cap should not be $20,000 but $30,000, especially in view of rising wages. If our suggestion had been adopted by MOM, this problem would not have arisen.
Anyway, the update to the case is this: Rahman eventually received a little under $20,000 from his employer. This was after the employer tried a diversionary tactic, offering Rahman resumption of the job, in return for him dropping the salary claim. With no reason to trust the employer with respect to future wages when previous wages went unpaid, Rahman rejected this offer.
MOM also allowed Rahman to look for new job without having to go home, but the time window given to him was too short for him to be successful in his job search. He went home in late 2018.