On TWC2’s Bengali Facebook page, we spread information about workers’ right to detailed, itemised payslips. Unfortunately, as this story shows, it is quite a meaningless “right”.

Kajal had grounds for suspicion that he had been shortpaid his salary for a whole year. What finally pushed him to act was when the employer abruptly terminated his employment on 5 December 2023 and did not pay him for the two preceding months. He was only given work for 13 days in October and 15 days in November, and Kajal knew that the boss was applying a policy of only paying for days when work was assigned to employees. So even if Kajal had been paid, his earnings in November and December would have been meagre since his fixed monthly salary was only $526 a month. If pro-rated for only the days he worked, it would be even less. When he confronted his boss about the delayed payments and the policy of not paying him just because the company didn’t assign work to him, he was sacked.

On this point about not paying workers when no work is assigned to them, this is simply illegal. The Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012 make it clear that the fixed monthly salary is payable whether or not an employee is given work. This is the relevant section:

FOURTH SCHEDULE, PART III

4. Except where the foreign employee is on no-pay leave outside Singapore, the employer shall, regardless of whether there is actual work for the foreign employee but subject to any other written law, pay the foreign employee not less than —
(a) the amount declared as the fixed monthly salary in the work pass application submitted to the Controller in relation to the foreign employee; or

(b) if the amount of fixed monthly salary is at any time subsequently revised in accordance with paragraph 6A of Part IV, the last revised amount.

Likewise, failure to pay an employee all his due wages when employment is terminated is also illegal. It is in Section 22 of the Employment Act.

Payment on dismissal

22. Subject to the provisions of this Act, the total salary and any sum due to an employee who has been dismissed must be paid on the day of dismissal or, if this is not possible, within 3 days thereafter, not being a rest day or public holiday or other holiday.

Does Singapore have a system for an employee to recover the full amount he or she is owed under our Employment Act? In theory, yes. In practice, not quite, as Kajal’s story will illustrate.

Nor is this absurd reality just a matter affecting migrant workers. The Employment Act applies to citizen workers as well, and if its provisions are not enforced – as we will see from the story below – the weaknesses in the Ministry of Manpower’s processes will affect citizen workers as well.

What Kajal was owed

When Kajal approached us, it was highly probable that, beyond the issue of the salary for October and November, he was also shortpaid for the entire year of 2023, since the company had been illegally operating a policy of not paying for days in which an employee was not assigned work. In order to ascertain how much the unpaid difference was, Kajal would need to calculate from time records.

The problem was that, whilst Kajal’s employer used to provide payslips, this ceased sometime in 2021. Kajal did not receive salary computations for 2022 and 2023. According to Kajal and a coworker, complaining about the lack of payslips would be met with the boss’s ire and flimsy excuses.

Upon losing his job and fearing that his employer might dodge payment and repatriate him, Kajal acted swiftly, filing a salary claim with TADM, at least for October-December, for which his evidence was strong even without payslips.

Subsequently, TWC2 sought MOM’s intervention to compel the employer to provide payslips for the past 12 months. Kajal also urged the TADM mediator to press his employer for payslips. TADM is the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) unit that handles salary disputes, and organises mediation sessions between parties. Despite these efforts, the employer obstinately refused to furnish the payslips but reluctantly conceded to pay $1,100 out of Kajal’s claim amount of $1,597 for salaries for October through December 2023.

Kajal accepted this offer.

While Kajal’s situation might appear resolved, it is far from a happy conclusion. Despite knowing about the underpayment of his fixed monthly salary for the months prior to October 2023, Kajal faced a daunting challenge in substantiating the exact shortfall without access to payslips. Consequently, he had to forego pursuing salary claims for the months leading up to October 2023.

As of this article’s publication, the measures taken to prevent similar stifling of salary claims caused by employers’ failure to furnish payslips, remain uncertain.

The law on payslips

It is actually illegal not to issue payslips. Section 96 of the Employment Act makes the obligation to do so crystal clear.

Employers’ obligation in relation to pay slips

96.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), an employer must give —
(a) to 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; and
(b) to every employee a pay slip for every sum paid by the employer under section 22 or 23.

(2) 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.

(3) The requirement to give a pay slip to an employee under this section is satisfied if an electronic record containing the prescribed information of a pay slip is provided in a manner that enables the information contained in the electronic record to be accessible and useable by the employee for subsequent reference.

(4) 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.

How an employer such as Kajal’s can simply refuse, with no visible consequences despite our bringing the matter up to the authorities, is puzzling.

How common is this practice of not issuing payslips?

Kajal’s is hardly an isolated case. A few weeks after he was repatriated, we speak with three workers at TWC2’s Cuff Road Project. We just picked them out at random. Two of them tell us they did not get payslips at all. The third man did, and it looked like a properly drawn-up calculation.

Qasir, the first one we speak with, simply got money credited into his bank account. He had no idea how the amount was computed, and therefore no assurance that the salary calculation (for overtime pay, allowance, etc) was correct. Or whether any unauthorised deductions had been included.

Mohid also had money credited into his bank account. But he was also asked to “sign voucher” every month. While the payment voucher “have some number”, he was not allowed to keep a copy. Without a copy in hand, he could not examine it at leisure for accuracy (assuming there were enough details for checking, which he did not think so), or use it for future reference.

“Do you have any other paper showing how your salary may have been calculated, such as time cards?” we ask him.

“Everything all no have,” Mohid replies.

Uzzal, the third man we speak with, has a photo of his payslip on his phone (imaged below). It looks compliant with the standard required by MOM, with sufficient detail. That’s good. But why is Uzzal now seeking help from TWC2?

“This one is old one,” he says, referring to the payslip he is showing us. “That time have salary.”

“And now?”

“And now, three months already, no pay salary,” Uzzal explains.

Also of note, as seen from Uzzal’s payslip, is that he was paid in cash instead of bank transfer. The good thing about bank transfers is that workers then have an independent record of how much they received. There have been cases where workers were issued immaculate payslips showing correct calculations, yet the envelope containing cash held a different amount! Bank transfers would not allow such sleight of hand.

Bus stop poster

The photograph below was taken along Stevens Road in November 2023. When we showed it around among volunteers and staff in TWC2, one volunteer noted how running such an information campaign implied that even MOM knows the problem is widespread, and that, “This means not getting payslips is common among local employees, too!”

It’s all very well to run information campaigns to let employees know what they are entitled to, but the key issue is whether they are able to ask for payslips without fear of retaliation. In Kajal’s case, the answer was obviously no. Just asking for his due salary led to him being fired.

And as our story above shows, even drawing the authorities’ attention to the non-issuance of payslips yielded no result. Kajal never got copies of his payslips despite his asking through his TADM mediator, and TWC2 writing to MOM.

Information campaigns are needed, but shouldn’t enforcement be a big part of the solution?