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By TWC2 volunteer Ashwin U based on an interview in August 2020

Then you should go make a police report, the officer from the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) advised Dhali Md Shamim. Dhali had objected to the authenticity of signature(s) purported to be his on various salary payment documents presented by his employer at a mediation session.

The next day — 25 March 2020 — Shamim visited a police station and filed a report over what he said were forged signatures. In the filed report, he said that the TADM officer

told me that the original document provided by my company related to the collection of salary was not signed for the month of August, September and October 2019. For July was signed. However, the photocopy of the said document was signed for the month of August. I did not signed on the documents for the month of August till October 2019.

Shamim obtained a personal copy of this police report which he intended to submit to the MOM.

This episode was arguably the culmination of many frustrations Shamim had experienced since 2014 as a mechanic for KS Marine Engineering Pte Ltd (which he refers to as KS Marine Hub).

To begin with, there was the problem of his basic salary. Shamim has, over his six years with this company, been entitled to a basic salary of $385 a month – which, in and of itself has hardly been enough for Shamim to easily recoup the $9,000 that he’d initially paid his agent – but has typically only received $350 to $355 a month instead. Shamim is unable to explain the rationale for paying him this arbitrarily reduced amount.

Then, he says, each month he suffered a $160 deduction for housing, nearly twice as high as the $88 a month stated in the In-principle Approval (see Glossary) .

Despite this, Shamim stayed on the job for years, the fear of not being able to recoup the sunk cost of $9,000 being likely a major factor. He only filed a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) when, he said, he was owed some $5,300 in outstanding salary and allowances for both regular work and overtime that he’d performed from July through October 2019.

At sea for 82 days

$1,640 of that owed amount sprang from unpaid allowances for an extraordinary assignment that Shamim was given in July 2019, when he was placed on board a vessel named “Heerema – Sleipnir” as it sailed to Spain. The vessel was undergoing sea trials after repair. A sea trial is the testing phase of a ship after its construction or repair and lasts many days.

Shamim spent 82 days on the vessel during which Shamim performed his assigned duties of maintaining the ship’s air compressor and helped with maintaining its engine. The voyage proceeded without signficant hiccups as he sailed across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope and up Africa’s western coast to Spain.

His assignment ended there and he was supposed to fly home from Gibraltar.

Unfortunately, Shamim had made the mistake of making an unnecessary shopping trip, causing him to miss the flight. He then relied on his former colleagues at the shipping company to let him once again board their vessel, and embark on yet another voyage, this time across the Mediterranean and Red Seas, as well as the northern Indian Ocean, en route back to Singapore.

On return, Shamim found that his overtime wages for July had not been paid. Nor were his basic, overtime wages and allowances for August. Apparently, he wasn’t the only employee that was not paid; other employees were in the same situation, and they even organised a one-day work stoppage to protest. Eventually his co-workers received their salary arrears, but not Shamim.

As October rolled around, Shamim found that his employer was also refusing to pay him for the work that he’d performed in September. On the 15 October, a frustrated Shamim finally sought assistance from MOM, which arranged mediation sessions — the first phase of a salary claim process.

Initially, the employer said that they had to deduct the cost of the wasted air ticket from Gibraltar, but, as Shamim tells TWC2, when MOM/TADM officers contacted the general manager of the shipping company, the general manager said they hadn’t charged KS Marine Hub for the missed flight, or Shamim’s voyage back.

Dead in the water for months

Not long after the March 2020 incident when the employer presented what Shamim said were forged documents and he went off to file a police report, Covid-19 cases shot up in Singapore and we went into a months-long lock-down. His case stalled like a ship in the doldrums.

As the lockdown was lifted and claims processing revived, it became obvious that no amicable settlement could be reached between Shamim and his employer. The case will be escalated to the Employment Claims Tribunal for adjudication, and Shamim has come back to TWC2 for help in preparing his court submissions.

The case may stretch for months more. In the meantime, there is another challenge facing him: How is he to financially support himself amidst Singapore’s current economic slowdown?

In January 2021, the Employment Claims Tribunal issued an order for the employer to pay Shamim his basic salary and overtime pay for the four months of July to October 2019, totalling about $2,800. The tribunal did not find in favour of Shamim’s claim for the seagoing allowance ($1,640), as, according to Shamim, there wasn’t enough proof of this entitlement contractually. Shamim received payment of the ordered amount and he went home in March 2021.