“I many times ask boss,” says Baljinder, “but he not answer.” That being the case, Baljinder cannot tell us why the employer paid his monthly salary in cash rather than through a bank account. The strange thing is that when Baljinder first began working for the company about three years ago, the boss opened a POSB bank account for him. Moreover, under MOM’s rules, Baljinder must be paid through his bank account since he held an S-Pass (see this page on MOM”s website: Paying the salary of S Pass holders).

There were some occasions when the employer paid his salary through the account, which still remains live today, but “Most of the time, pay handcash.”

Furthermore, on each payday, the company fails to provide its employees with detailed itemised payslip. Baljinder reports that he is simply asked to sign a payment voucher with scarce details and anyway he is not provided a copy to keep. A webpage on MOM’s website (See: Itemised pay slips) unequivocally says “Employers must issue itemised pay slips to all employees covered by the Employment Act”.

Cash payments do not leave an independent record of how much was actually given to the recipient unlike bank transfers. The situation made worse but not giving employees detailed itemised payslips, workers like Baljinder can only assume that the salary each month was correctly computed and paid. He is unable to check.

Work permit holders

Raju is a Work Permit holder. He tells a similar story as Baljinder. When he first began working for the current company about seven years ago, a bank account was opened for him, and for a while, his salary was paid into it. Lately, it has been paid in cash. Raju did not raise this issue with his boss; foreign workers seldom wish to risk being seen as impertinent and lose their jobs as a result.

Miraj used to have a bank account when he was working here pre-Covid. When he went home after that job, he closed the account.

He came back to Singapore for his current job in February 2023, but the present company did not open a bank account for him. His salary has, since day one, been paid in cash. Like Raju, he too considers confronting his boss about it to be quite unthinkable.

Unlike the case for S-Pass holders, MOM grants a loophole to employers of Work Permit holders. They need only pay salaries through the bank if the Work Permit employee stays in dormitories. Miraj stays in a large dormitory in Kranji so there is no reason why he shouldn’t be paid through a bank account. In Raju’s case however, it’s more complicated. He is housed in a private building. Is that a dormitory? Since 1 April, it may well be, because on that date, the scope of the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA) was expanded “to include migrant worker (MW) dormitories1 with 7 or more beds” (See: Expanded Foreign Employee Dormitories Act To License 1,600 Dormitories Under Single Regulatory Framework).

Is this considered a dormitory? With two lorries in front, it probably houses more than seven workers. Pic from Google Streetview.

The Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations 2012 also states that “If the foreign employee so requests, the foreign employee’s salary shall be paid via direct transfer into the foreign employee’s bank account in a bank established in Singapore” – Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, Fourth Schedule, Part IV, Section 5. But since MOM also gives enormous power to employers to fire employees at will and repatriate them, leaving them at the mercy of debt collectors back home, this rule is mostly just for show. Most workers, like Raju and Miraj, won’t dare to request.

Salary paid to friend

The wierdest story comes from Riyad (not his real name). He joined his present company in 2019. At some point – we’re not altogether clear whether it was at the beginning or some months into his employment – the boss decided he would make salary payment through bank. But for some reason, he didn’t open a bank account for Riyad. Instead he asked Riyad to nominate a bank account of a trusted friend.

“So I ask my friend for his [account] number,” Riyad tells TWC2.

It was a personal friend, not a “friend” suggested by the employer. But the friend was not an employee of the same company, nor did he stay in the same place. “My friend dormitory in Punggol,” explains Riyad.

For months afterward, the boss paid Riyad’s salary into the friend’s account, and the two workers had to work out a way to transfer cash and remittances between them. Hearing this, TWC2’s caseworker wondered how the employer is ever going to prove that they have paid Riyad’s salary month after month, when the money went elsewhere. It remains a mystery. As to why the employer chose this route, no one can explain.

Straw poll

For this story, we carried out a straw poll of workers visiting TWC2 over work injury issues, i.e. over matters unrelated to salary defaults, and which therefore would be an independent variable from a company’s salary policies. Two out of eighteeen men reported payment by cash instead of bank transfers. A third man reported mixed payment modes. These three men constituted 17 percent of our sample, albeit a small one.

Among workers with salary claims, TWC2 vice-president Alex Au says the percentage paid in cash is higher, though your writer didn’t have time to do another straw poll of this group. “Even when salary-claim workers tell MOM that salaries were paid in cash, we’ve never seen MOM take any action. Nor when workers tell MOM they’re not getting detailed payslips. Such employers are clearly violating MOM’s own rules, thereby disadvantaging workers, but it’s as if the ministry doesn’t care.”