The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) responded to our 20 Feb 2019 article ‘Rahman and employer agree to settle salary claim… then nothing happens‘ with a statement on their website. That statement amplifies their ability to help, and implicitly accuses the worker of not seeking help when help was (said to be) available. The worker’s misery is thus put on the worker himself, rather than acknowledge that it is also due to MOM’s relative neglect.

It is also interesting that when MOM puts out a statement disagreeing with our original article, MOM does not include a link to it, thus making it difficult for readers to read the original article and make up their own minds.

We will put MOM’s statement in full here in italics. At several points, we rebut them.

Rahman Mostafizur worked as a construction worker between March 2017 to May 2018. After fourteen months in employment, he filed a claim against his employer for short payment of In-Principle Approval (IPA) salary at TADM.

A misleading TWC2 article alleged that MOM and TADM did nothing to help Rahman with his salary claim and that he was limited by the $20,000 cap under the Employment Claims Act.

The Employment Claims Act clearly says that the ceiling for claims is $20,000. While in a technical sense, the mediator from the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) may not be bound by that, Rahman Mostafizur mentioned to TWC2 that his mediator pointed out this ceiling. Rahman interpreted it to mean that he was being urged to accept a figure lower than $20,000, otherwise follow-up action on the settlement agreement might be stuck — which, as it turned out, was the case.

Interestingly, our article noted that eventually, Rahman received “a little under $20,000 from his employer” — a fact that MOM does not dispute — which corroborates our view that there was something about the claim value being above $20,000 that caused the matter to go into limbo.

These allegations by TWC2 are untrue and not helpful to the foreign workers they wish to assist. We would like to refute the following claims:

Claim 1: MOM and TADM did nothing to help Rahman who was left in limbo for 3 months
Fact: When Rahman filed a salary claim, he was assigned a TADM case officer and given direct contact details. Rahman had many opportunities to raise his concerns with the officer any time, especially since he had to visit TADM every two weeks while on a Special Pass. The TADM officer made it a point to check with Rahman if he had any issues on every occasion. The reality is not the situation that TWC2 had painted, as Rahman was able to get help from TADM if needed.

The reason Rahman came to TWC2 was because he couldn’t get any progress from MOM or TADM. MOM should check its own happy assertion that its case officers are ready to meet with workers on Special Passes each time the workers go to get the passes extended or that Rahman’s case officer “made it a point to check with Rahman…. on every occasion.” This is not believable based on the experience of hundreds and thousands of workers TWC2 assists with. The empirical evidence is that when workers ask to see their case officers the common response from the counter clerks is “he is busy” or “he is not here.” Even when the case officer can be reached, the response is often “just wait”.

The reality is opposite to what MOM is saying. Workers are often frustrated when they try to get help from MOM and TADM officers.

Claim 2: The $20,000 claims cap under the Employment Claims Act made Rahman accept a lower payment.
Fact: It was not truthful for TWC2 to allege that $20,000 claims cap under the Act was an issue, as MOM had told TWC2 otherwise when they were enquiring about the case. In fact, MOM informed TWC2 that Rahman’s employer had been ordered to pay over $24,000 for his salary settlement. Rahman’s employer would have been liable for prosecution under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act if he failed to pay.

The fact is that MOM was prepared to help Rahman recover the full owed amount, but Rahman decided to settle the matter privately with the employer as he wanted to receive his monies quickly and return home.

MOM may claim that the employer was “ordered to pay over $24,000”, but the fact remains that the money never materialised despite Rahman waiting three months. The claim that MOM “was prepared to help Rahman” would be a lot more credible if the money came.

Another interesting thing is that Rahman said that no copy of the settlement agreement was given to him, as stated in our article. MOM does not dispute that. But it is poor practice when TADM did not ensure that he got a copy.

Eventually, Rahman felt he couldn’t wait any longer and so settled for an amount under $20,000. If MOM was so able to help, why did he have to wait months, and then have to settle for less?  Is MOM blaming him for this unsatisfactory outcome? That, by not being willing to waste more time hanging around in Singapore, he only has himself to blame for getting less? It’s easy to say “MOM was prepared to help”, but the end result was that MOM did not get him the $24,000.

Claim 3: Rahman was given a short period of time to change employer.
Fact: This is false. Rahman requested for a change of employer in July 2018 and was given till late September 2018 to do so. He had 2 months to look for a new employer, which was not as short a time as claimed by TWC2.

Many well-qualified Singaporeans take more than two months to find a job. How MOM defines “short” may be detached from reality.

In September 2018, Rahman withdrew his claim at TADM after he settled the matter with his employer.

We would like to remind TWC2 that the best way to help workers like Rahman is to encourage them to report early, and not allow their arrears to snowball. In this case, Rahman should not have waited 14 months before coming forward to TADM to lodge his salary claims. Workers who come forward early stand a higher chance of recovering their owed salaries.

We don’t disagree with the above, except that MOM needs to be a lot more understanding of the fact that “coming forward” to lodge a salary means (a) termination from the job, and (b) poor prospects of getting another job — as exemplified by Rahman’s experience. It’s a very high price to pay for filing a claim with no certainty of recovering owed salaries in full — also exemplified by Rahman’s story.

A great majority of foreign workers pay huge sums to recruitment agents to get their jobs. They need to work long enough (often 24 months or more) to recover the invested sum. When faced with underpayment, they often feel it better to hang on and hope to get their salaries later than to burn their bridges and file a claim.

It is important therefore for MOM to do more to control recruitment costs, including costs paid outside Singapore. In the absence of such action, urging workers to “report early” has no real meaning.

In summary, MOM alleges that because Rahman did not seek help from their officers, so Rahman did not get what he was owed. Firstly, Rahman did seek help — he filed a salary case and attended mediation — and secondly, MOM should not be implying that it’s not their fault if cases get lost and no action follows unless the worker bugs his case officer every week. MOM should get its work done without need for external stimuli. The final point is that ultimately, MOM did not get the settlement agreement of over $24,000 paid up; out of desperation, Rahman settled privately for less.