A TWC2 volunteer (left) registering a worker coming to TWC2 over a salary problem (right)

Detailed payslips allow employees to know whether their salary for the month has been correctly calculated. Without them, they lack crucial evidence in proving their claim if they have reason to believe that they have been underpaid.

Salaries can have many components, e.g. basic salary, overtime, working on Sundays, shift allowances and so on. In the interest of good employer-employee relationships, it is important that employers calculate salaries correctly and transparently and for workers to see that they have been calculated correctly,

The requirement to issue payslips to employees is set out in Section 96 of the Employment Act. Subsection 96(1)(a) says an employer must give…

every employee of the employer a pay slip, within the time prescribed for giving pay slips, for all salary paid by the employer for the salary period or salary periods to which the pay slip relates.

Subsection 96(4) requires the payslip to be complete and accurate:

An employer is taken to have failed to comply with subsection (1) if the pay slip given to an employee is incomplete or inaccurate, whether or not the employer knew that the pay slip is incomplete or inaccurate.

As for the format, Subsection 96(3) says:

A pay slip given by an employer to an employee must be in the form prescribed (if prescribed) and must contain all the information prescribed.

The Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM’s) website includes a sample of how a payslip should be:

The law’s requirements are echoed on MOM’s website which states, in plain English, that employers must issue itemised payslips to all employees covered by the Employment Act, which include work permit holders. Payslips, either soft or hard copy, must be given together with payment to an employee, or within three working days of payment.

It is one thing having a salary slip, and quite the other having a properly itemised one. According to MOM, an itemised salary should contain the following:

  1. Full name of employer
  2. Full name of employee
  3. Date of payment
  4. Basic salary
  5. Start and end date of salary period
  6. Allowances paid for salary period
  7. Any other additional payment for each salary period such as bonuses, rest day pay, public holiday pay
  8. Deductions made for each salary period
  9. Overtime hours worked
  10. Overtime pay
  11. Start and end date of overtime payment period
  12. Net salary paid in total

Moreover, since April 2020, MOM has made it mandatory for employers to pay migrant workers who stay in dormitories via electronic transfer. Together, these two policies work hand-in-hand as crucial safeguards to ensure, firstly, that workers are able to check how their salaries have been computed and secondly, how much was actually paid into their bank accounts.

MOM’s rules notwithstanding, there is an epidemic of poorly itemised salary slips. This situation reflects the unfair and unequal treatment that migrant workers still experience in Singapore. The lack of bargaining power of a low-wage migrant worker often means the worker does not even dare to ask for a payslip even when the law says it is his or her right.

Conversations with fourteen workers

To better understand the “on the ground” situation, we had short conversations with fourteen migrant workers either at TWC2’s office or at our Cuff Road Project, where free meals are served. We made an intentional decision to avoid speaking with workers who had ongoing salary claims, so as not to skew our sample towards workers with salary disputes. Instead, we interviewed workers who were either accompanying their friends to TWC2 (i.e. they have no issues of their own) or who were work injury cases.

None of the twelve workers had payslips that lived up to MOM’s required standard, but the shortcomings of their payslips fell into four broad groups. This allows us to divide the rest of this discussion thematically by these four types.

Lacking in detail

The most striking case we came across was that of a worker who showed us a picture of his salary slip on his phone. Basically, it was just a single number and little else. The single line item showed a “basic monthly salary” of $1,800. There was no mention of his working hours, overtime hours and pay, his rest day or public holiday working hours.

This man explained that he has never been compensated for any of his overtime, rest day or public holiday work. With a dismal look on his face, he told us that he knew his salary slip was incomplete. When we asked why he had not lodged a salary claim, he simply shook his head and looked down.

But we understood. After all, making a salary claim carries significant risks for migrant workers, especially those who are relatively new to Singapore, shouldering a large debt due to high agent fees. When a worker decides to make a salary claim, it may be a potentially long drawn out battle, during which he will remain unemployed, without any guarantee that the final settlement will even be close to the amount he is owed. See our article: Who prospers in this salary saga?

He finds himself in a dilemma: Tolerate the toxic mix of underpayment and shoddy payslips, or leap into the fire of a salary claim.

The image below is from another worker. As can be seen, the pay slip similarly shows the “Salary” and nothing else.

How was the figure of $1,300 arrived at? Did it include overtime and other add-ons? There’s simply no way of knowing.

But here’s the shocker. The worker told us that according to his In-principle Approval issued by MOM before he started work, his basic monthly salary was $1,600, which was a higher figure than the $1,300 stated on the payslip.  Straight off, something looks fishy.

Moreover, even if there had been more numbers on that payslip, they might still not have been meaningful. The form had labels “others”, “others deduction” and “on hold” – too non-specific to tell the worker what these would be even if there had been figures next to them.

The image above is from another worker. He had no reason to think he was incorrectly paid. But the terms used on the payslip make little sense and we could not tease out the details of how the numbers – apparently calculated with great exactitude to two decimal places – were arrived at. This payslip was a long way away from the standard required by MOM.

There are details, but the details are wrong

Other workers informed us that the payslips they got looked detailed but in fact the numbers printed on them were plain wrong. Below is an example that one worker showed us. Interestingly, he also mentioned in the same breath that this was the only salary slip he was ever given (for January 2023). His boss sent it to him via WhatsApp and did not even ask the employee for his agreement, even though the bottom of the form had a space for “Employee’s Signature & Date”. But, “I no complain this one,” the worker said.

Other months, the boss did not issue payslips at all, though the worker said he asked for them.

In any case, the figures on this January 2023 payslip were not even correct. The worker pointed out that the payslip said he worked 23 days that month when there were 26 working days. However, whether 23 or 26, the format didn’t comply with MOM’s, which requires a monthly salary, not a daily salary. Indeed, In-principle Approvals which set out the terms of employment always state basic monthly salaries, and employers are not supposed to arbitrarily use a different, daily-rated figure, and along the way, omit the days when the worker was not asked to work.

No payslips at all

Half of the workers we spoke with told us no payslip had been issued to them. Their companies did have some record of calculations, but they were not given a copy. In one worker’s case, his boss even shouted at him when he requested to take a picture of the calculation or salary slip. Several other men we spoke to also admitted to being too afraid to take pictures of their employer’s salary calculations.

A TWC2 study, conducted in 2018, found that a quarter of employers did not provide copies of payslips to workers, a clear violation of the Employment Act. See our article: Salary Slip Survey 2018. Our conversations with these fourteen workers reveal that this violation still persists in 2023.

Cash payments

Although we did not set out to ask our fourteen workers how their salaries were paid, on several occasions, they volunteered that they were paid in cash, and not through bank. A recent article on this website, Despite law, some workers still paid in cash, highlighted this practice even though MOM has rules against it.

Although the topic here is payslips, we arrive at a similar final question as that other article about cash payments: Why is enforcement absent?

Nearly all the TWC2 clients whom we help over their salary claims have shoddy salary slips or none at all. Even workers who hadn’t filed salary claims – such as the fourteen we interviewed – often report shoddy payslips or none. At MOM and their salary claims unit, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), they must similarly see worker after worker with incomplete, inaccurate or non-existent payslips. It would be the easiest thing in the world for MOM to pick up every one of these cases and crack the whip over those employers. It is an offence against the Employment Act, after all and it is MOM’s job to enforce the law.

That we continue to see a parade of workers without proper payslips suggests that turning a blind eye to violations of the law has become a habit.