The Straits Times published on 5 September 2019 a letter from Transient Workers Count Too. This letter was in response to an earlier-published letter from the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), which we append below.
Straits Times Forum, 5 Sept 2019: Bosses of foreign workers ignore court orders to pay up
The Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) encounters a problem similar to that of The Association of Women for Action and Research.
It has also seen court orders ignored by the employers of migrant workers who are owed wages (Better enforcement of court orders needed, Aug 30)
We are not aware of any consequences to the employer when this happens.
Migrant workers who have not been paid their salaries or are underpaid are referred to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) when attempts at mediation fail.
When the cases conclude in the workers’ favour, many employers do not pay up despite orders by the ECT to do so.
The workers are appalled that there is so little regard for court orders and no viable method of enforcement. We understand that these debts are viewed as a civil, not criminal, matter.
There are several debt recovery options, such as bankruptcy proceedings and writ of seizure and sale. But these options are too costly and time-consuming for migrant workers to pursue.
A pro bono lawyer whom we consulted summed up the situation: “The fundamental problem is that enforcement mechanisms do not come with any assurance that one will get any money at the end of the process.”
In one recent case, an employer told us he had no intention of complying with the tribunal’s order even though a check with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority showed that his company is still in operation.
In another case, the employer did not even appear at the ECT and became uncontactable.
The Ministry of Manpower’s assistance to workers facing such circumstances does little to mitigate their plight.
Prosecuting errant employers, for instance, does not help recover any money. Insurance or ex-gratia payouts do not match even half of the amounts owed. And the ability to seek new employment is not assured, even if granted.
Migrant workers believe strongly in Singapore’s legal system and have worked long hours in what should be a fair economic exchange for their hard labour.
Being denied their earnings after winning their claim at the ECT is alarming injustice.
Better protection of salary payments and official enforcement of court orders would benefit not just migrant workers but Singaporeans as well, and ought to be a matter of priority.
The earlier letter from AWARE to the Straits Times Forum was published the week before:
Straits Times Forum, 30 Aug 2019: Better enforcement of court orders needed
In recent years, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has advocated improving housing access for single-parent families via changes to Housing Board rules, such as by allowing unmarried mothers and their children to form a family nucleus to buy and rent from HDB.
In my work there, I have come across at least two cases of divorced mothers who had trouble securing alternative housing because their ex-husbands did not comply with court orders to sell the matrimonial flat.
Without first selling the matrimonial flat, neither party can buy or rent from HDB. Single parents who cannot access public housing either seek housing from the private market – which is costly and economically unsustainable – or live with their friends and family, often resulting in strained family relations.
One single mother we assisted has been trying to sell her matrimonial flat for close to two years. However, her ex-husband has failed to comply with multiple court orders to sell it, including one that states that he has to allow potential buyers to view the flat. He has occupied the flat since the finalisation of the divorce, changed the locks and refused to open the door for flat viewings. As a result, she cannot sell the flat despite engaging property agents to do so.
It was revealed in Parliament that the enforcement of such court orders is not tracked.
It is unfair to expect those like her to go back to court multiple times to enforce the order, as it is a time-consuming and emotionally draining process. What else can be done to ensure that individuals comply with court orders, and that these single parents have timely access to affordable housing?
Chong Ning Qian
On 12 September 2019, the Straits Times Forum had a letter from a Gerald Ang in response to ours. The letter said:
Collect security deposits from employers of migrant workers
It’s appalling that migrant workers who slogged for long hours without a day off have been deprived of their salaries by errant employers (Bosses of foreign workers ignore court orders to pay up, by Transient Workers Count Too, Sept 5).
After workers spend time and money to win claims at the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT), errant employers still refused to pay the earnings due, or even disappeared. What more can the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) do to enforce compliance after ECT claims are won?
Can MOM require a monetary deposit of several months’ salary from employers each time it approves a migrant worker’s employment permit? This would be similar to the security deposit required by utilities providers.
Migrant workers come to Singapore to find employment to provide for their loved ones back home. Just as we Singaporeans expect to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, the same is expected for migrant workers.
The errant employers may not have it in their hearts to pay migrant workers who had borrowed thousands of dollars to come to Singapore to find employment, but our government agencies surely can do more to eliminate such cases.
Gerald Ang Joo Huat