By Yasha S based on an interview in January 2019

For 47-year old labourer Motaleb Abdul, seeking justice for what he is owed seems like a never-ending game of disappointment. Despite having a salary settlement agreement drawn by Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), he has yet to be paid by his Singaporean boss — who he suspects has fled the country.

His salary woes began when he first worked for Sensory Hub Pte Ltd starting in late April 2018. He says he was not paid for three months despite having an In-Principal Approval (IPA) letter stating his monthly salary to be $1,600 a month.

At the end of July 2018, a staff member of Sensory Hub then told him that he was going to be transferred to FeiTeng 1X Builder Pte Ltd, claiming that both companies shared the same boss, and that Sensory Hub had allegedly “gone bankrupt”. Public records however show that the companies are owned by different persons.

After working at his new company for a month, he was still not given an In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter by the company. Without that document, Motaleb cannot be sure that MOM approved the transfer; nor a work permit be issued to him. Molateb proceeded to file a salary claim complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The claim would be on Sensory Hub, for over three months of unpaid work.

With the help of a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officer, he calculated the total amount owed to be $6,312.81. However, during the second mediation session with his boss, overseen by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), his boss had asked him to compromise by reducing the claimed sum. The later settled on $5,500 – acknowledged by MOM, his boss and Molateb himself. See the agreement by clicking the thumbnail. See also the footnote relating to one detail in the agreement.

Says Motaleb:  “Six thousand cutting [to] 5,500. Boss say ‘Okay, next week I pay.’ After next week, he never come back. I phone also, [but] he never answer.”

The agreement was signed on 6 September 2018, and the agreement specified that the sum should be paid by 20 September 2018.  Motaleb has yet to see the money.

“MOM officer tell me, ‘Your boss salah already leh’,” using the local word for wrongdoing.

Although his case is not closed, he says he has yet to receive any updates from MOM. He tells me that the last thing he’s heard was “MOM say, ‘Your boss now gone already… your boss no come’.”

The officer then said, “Never mind apply to MWC [but] I don’t know how much they want to give.”

MWC is the Migrant Workers Centre which dishes out small sums of money to salary-unpaid workers. It will be nowhere close to restitution of the full sum owed to him by his boss.” [Update: Motaleb received $1,000.]

Motaleb is becoming resigned to his loss. “My salary money only $5500 but this one also never give,” he says with an audible sigh.

The sole breadwinner of his family of six in Bangladesh, Molateb shared how he had paid $5,000 to his friend – a dalal (an unlicensed freelance job broker in Bangladesh) – who had liaised with his Singaporean boss to get him a job. He adds that his Singaporean boss denied getting any money from the dalal.

To raise the $5,000 he had to pay the dalal, he sold his rice paddy land and took a loan from a bank in Bangladesh for the balance. But now he’s in a deep financial hole. “Singapore coming to make money… but company closing”.

His feelings about the situation? “I go back also no cash, no money… I no happy, my family also no happy”.

Pat Meyer, a long-term volunteer of ten-years at TWC2 adds that it is common to see many workers go all the way through the salary claims process, sometimes even getting a court order in their favour, but still end up with nothing.

“One of the most unfortunate situations is when workers go through the whole salary claims process only to have no enforcement on their court orders. If the employer refuses to pay the employees or if the business has wound up or if the boss is uncontactable – it is hard for former employees to recover the unpaid salaries. There is no viable system in place to recover unpaid salaries from wound-up businesses and recalcitrant bosses.”

“TWC2 helps workers through the process, which is often time-consuming and tedious, and yet often unsuccessful.”

The Settlement Agreement of 6 September 2018 was signed by an Ong Kok Hua on behalf of Sensory Hub Pte Ltd. However, the public record, as at March 2019, does not show any Ong Kok Hua as director of Sensory Hub. It only shows a Kong Tien Hock as director and owner of all 55,000 shares.

There is a possibility that Ong Kok Hua was a director as at 6 September 2018 and subsequently resigned from that position. Unfortunately, the records as of that date are not retrievable.

Nonetheless, one wonders whether the bona fides of whoever shows up at MOM or TADM claiming to represent a company are verified.