By TWC2 volunteer Heidi M, based on an interview in July 2020

“My boss go back to Malaysia,” says Razzak. “I don’t think he will come back.”

How does one solve a salary claim when the boss has disappeared?

Razzak Abdur is talking about his second job in Singapore, having come to Singapore for the first time in 2012. For his first job, he paid a total of $5,000 which covered both the mandatory three months’ skills training at a training centre in Bangladesh and the recruitment fee for this employment. That time he was offered a monthly salary of $650 and Razzak accepted the job.

It is to be noted that the Singapore Work Permit for foreign workers does not imply any minimum monthly salary, unlike the Employment Pass for foreign professionals and the “S Pass” for mid-level skilled staff.

After six years, in 2018, Razzak decided to go back to Bangladesh to support his family in their “rice production” business. Even though 2018 was a record year for Bangladesh’s rice production and exports, Razzak was longing to return to Singapore, which he did a year later.

This time, he was recommended by a friend to join a “young and dynamic construction company”. Things seemed to go according to plan. The In-principle approval (“IPA”, see Glossary for explanation) arrived by email, after which he bought a flight to Singapore for 20,000 Bangladeshi Taka (a little less than $350). Just like in his previous job, the employer promised a monthly salary of $650.

To seal the deal, Razzak had been asked to meet someone at Mustafa Centre after arrival here and pay that someone $2,000. Razzak at first thought it was the employment agent he had to hand the cash to, but would later discover that this person was really the boss of the company. Nonetheless, payment having been made, Razzak started working for the new company in October 2019.

It should be noted here that under Singapore law, it is illegal for an employer to take money for offering someone a job (see footnote 1). However, because these payments are typically made in cash, it is very hard to get evidence that stands up in court — which may explain why such kickback payments are so common, yet there are so few prosecutions.

For three months, Razzak was doing well but then unexpectedly in January 2020, there was no salary payment. Razzak’s boss convinced him to work for another month – yet the January salary was never received by Razzak, nor was the pay for the following month.

Next, Razzak’s work permit was cancelled, and in the meantime, Razzak’s boss left the country, and is now said to be back in Malaysia.

As I write this in July, Razzak has been jobless for a few months already. He is holding a Special Pass, which legalises his stay in Singapore and is issued for a specific purpose such as unresolved salary or injury case. The Special Pass does not allow the holder to work, meaning Razzak has no income for time being.

Having been paid for only about two months and a bit, Razzak would not have earned enough to recoup the $2,000 asked from him. Nor can he make a case of the $2,000 since it was paid in cash (as demanded).

The only claim that can be pursued is his salary for a few months in 2020, but with the employer fleeing to Malaysia, this does not look hopeful either. Razzak continues to press the case despite the odds, and meanwhile hopes he can find a new employment opportunity soon.

1. Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, First Schedule, Part III, section 5 says:

An employer shall not demand or receive any sum or other benefit from an employment agency or any other person in connection with the employment or change in employment of a foreign employee.

2. See article: Recruitment reform — what needs to be done.