In our stories and reports, we sometimes use terms and acronyms particular to our area of work, but may not be comprehensible to others, and then forget to explain them carefully.
It’s rather thoughtless of us. Please accept our apologies.
If you encounter any difficulty, perhaps the glossary here will help.
A – F
Agent fee: An amount of money paid to intermediaries (loosely termed “job agents”) to secure a job placement. Interchangeably used with “Agent money”.
Agent money: See “Agent fee”.
COE: It stands for Change of Employer, and is a letter issued by the Ministry of Manpower to a worker on a Special Pass when the ministry has given permission to the worker to look for a transfer job (see “Transfer job”). It does not guarantee the worker a new job. It merely permits other employers to consider hiring him. COE letters have short validity but can be extended.
Conservancy worker: A term that means a worker with a cleaning and sanitation job around housing estates. He collects the trash, sweeps the walkways, and on designated days, cleans with a high-pressure water jet.
Contract substitution: This is when an employer changes a contract of employment to another one with terms (e.g. salary) that are inferior to the original contract, doing so either unilaterally or by coercing consent from the employee (e.g. threatening to cancel the work permit and taking advantage of the worker’s vulnerability in indebtedness, etc). Particularly when such an act occurs soon after the employee is hired, it indicates that the promises made at the time of hiring were likely deceptive. Contract substitution is internationally recognised as an indicator of human trafficking.
Dalal: A Bengali word to mean a recruiter. It connotes someone who is perhaps a freelancer, unlicensed and outside formal recruitment agency systems. See “Recruiter”.
Driver: In some stories on this website, there may be mention of a driver. In the lives and speech of Work Permit holders, this word has an added layer of meaning. Even though the company lorry driver may be a Work Permit holder himself, this person is usually highly trusted by the employer to be a sort of enforcer.
Employment Act: The primary piece of legislation that aims to give protection to employees. It has provisions for determining overtime pay, minimum annual leave and sick leave, maximum hours of work, rest days, notice periods for termination, etc. Private parties can make employment contracts with terms more favourable to the employee than the minimum standards set out in the Employment Act, but not standards below the minimum. Domestic work is excluded from the scope of the Employment Act.
Employment Agencies Act: The legislation requiring anyone performing the function of an employment agent to be licensed and to abide by conditions of the licence (which set out professional standards including maximum chargeable fees).
Employment Claims Act: The legislation setting out mechanisms for resolving employment-related disputes, most commonly salary claims. See also “Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management” and “Employment Claims Tribunal”.
Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT): A tribunal within the State Courts system that hears employment disputes. Its decisions have the same status as a district judge. Parties must appear in person; no lawyers are permitted. Typically, salary cases that cannot be settled through mediation (see “Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Manageent”) are escalated to the ECT.
Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA): The legislation that governs how Work Passes are to be issued to foreigners wanting to work in Singapore. Subsidiary legislation under EFMA set out conditions that employers and migrant employees must adhere to, giving some protection to migrant workers, e.g. in matters of housing and medical care. Foreign domestic workers are included within the scope of EFMA.
Employment Pass: a grade of Work Pass for those with university qualification and a monthly salary above a specified minimum. It is meant for those holding professional jobs.
Foreign domestic worker (FDW): a migrant worker, almost always female, working within a household typically with care-giving, cleaning and housekeeping duties. See also “Maid”.
Foreign worker levy: a monthly tax that has to be paid by all employers of foreign workers to the Singapore government. How the tax amounts are calculated is fiendishly complicated. Failure to pay the tax for three months in a row leads to a revocation of Work Passes connected to the employer, landing all those workers out of their jobs.
G – M
Gangster: In some articles on this site, the reported speech of workers may use the word ‘gangster’. Among Work Permit holders, it doesn’t actually signify gangster in its usual meaning, but is used more loosely in reference to someone who exhibits thuggish behaviour. Usually, this person is brought in by the employer or the employment agent as an enforcer, typically in the days and hours leading up to forced repatriation. See “Repatriation agent”.
Immigration and Checkpoints Authority: The government body in charge of immigration and border control.
In-Principle Approval (IPA): A PDF document generated by the Ministry of Manpower indicating approval of a Work Pass for a named migrant worker. An IPA should state the name of the employer, the basic monthly salary, fixed allowances and deductions and thus the “Fixed Monthly Salary”. These details would have been submitted by the employer (or his employment agent) at the time of applying for a Work Pass for a desired employee, and consequently carried over onto the IPA document. The prospective employee entering Singapore for employment has first to obtain an IPA before travelling to Singapore and has to present his copy of the IPA at Immigration. The employer has to arrange to convert the IPA into a Work Pass within 15 days of the worker’s arrival. Case law has established that in the absence of other contractual arrangements, the salary stated in the IPA shall be binding. The Employment of Foreign Manpower Act specifically says that no modifications to the salary, allowances and deductions that are adverse to the employee may be made without the employee’s prior written agreement. While the law appears clear, enforcement remains patchy.
Kickback: Payments or salary deductions taken from employees to benefit their bosses or employers. Sometimes, kickbacks are built into the recruitment cost (see “Recruitment cost”), other times, they are periodic deductions from salary under misleading descriptions. Occasionally, they are demands for outright handover of cash. Under Singapore law, kickbacks are illegal.
Labour Court: This is a casual term to mean a hearing before the Commissioner for Labour (or Assistant Commissioner for Labour). Up to 2016, both salary and injury cases ended up at Labour Courts, but after the passage of the Employment Claims Act in that year, salary cases have been routed through the mechanisms set up by the latter law. Currently, only injury cases are heard at Labour Courts.
Lawyer: In many stories on this website about an injured worker, the reference to ‘lawyer’ should be treated with caution. There are many law firms in Singapore that almost exclusively take on only work injury claims. An unflattering comparison would be the term ‘ambulance chasers’. These law firms either hire or partner with business-raking associates whose main job is to sign up as many clients as possible from among injured foreign workers. They speak foreign workers’ native languages (often being their countrymen). Many workers never get to meet with the solicitors of the law firms themselves, but only deal with these business-raking associates. Workers tend to refer to these salesmen-associates as “lawyers” when in fact they are neither qualified in law nor called to the bar.
Levy: See “Foreign worker levy”
Light duty: A sort of medical status for an ill or injured person, ordered by a doctor. The patient is considered well enough to return to work, but only for light duties and not any strenuous work. This is usually documented with a doctor’s note that looks very much like a medical leave note (see “MC”).
Ma’am: Foreign domestic workers are taught to refer to the lady employer as “Ma’am”. This term has thus been extended from a form of address to a noun, e.g. “My Ma’am sent me out to pick up the kids from school.”
Maid: A word commonly used in Singapore to refer to a foreign domestic worker. See “Foreign domestic worker”.
Marine worker: In Singapore’s context, this term does not mean someone who works on ships or the high seas, but someone who works in the marine engineering industry, e.g. shipyards.
MC: A Singaporean initialism that stands for ‘medical certificate’. This is a doctor’s note that puts a patient on medical leave. MCs are of two kinds: hospitalisation leave and outpatient leave, with different rules regarding medical leave wages.
Ministry of Manpower (MOM): A government ministry (department) overseeing issues of employment. Its equivalent in many other countries would be Ministry of Labour.
N – S
Notice of Assessment: A letter issued by the Ministry of Manpower to a work injury claimant notifying him as to his assessed degree of permanent disability (‘permanent incapacity’) and the monetary compensation awarded to him under the Work Injury Compensation Act.
Overstayer: A person who has stayed beyond the period for which he is permitted to stay in the country. In Singapore’s case, most are overstayers of tourist passes, work passes or Special Passes. They are liable to be arrested and prosecuted. See also “Undocumented migrants”.
PPE: Personal protective equipment. Protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or other hazards.
Quota: Singapore has complex rules about how many foreign workers an employer can hire, usually set as a percentage of the total workforce. This foreign worker quota varies from one industry to another, from one employer to another. There are even nationality restrictions.
Recruiter: A person, typically operating in the labour source country, who recruits jobseekers and matches them with employers that the recruiter has connections with.
Recruitment cost: A term that signifies the total cost paid by the migrant work that gets him into a job. It includes not only the recruiter’s fee (see “Agent fee”) but may also include training cost, passport and documentation cost and airfare.
Renewal money: A salary deduction or kickback demanded by the employer fro his employee for the privilege of renewing the latter’s Work Permit. It is illegal. (See “Kickback”).
Repatriation agent: an outsourced service provider who organises the repatriation of Work Permit holders to their home countries. If the worker is likely to resist going home, the men (agents) may apply strong-arm tactics.
S-Pass: A credit card-sized Pass issued by the Ministry of Manpower that permits the holder to work in a specified job with a specified employer. An S-Pass is one of three main kinds of Work Passes — the others being Work Permit and Employment Pass — and is for mid-skill jobs with a minimum salary (evolves over time). Not to be confused with Special Pass.
Savings money: An utterly misleading term used by some employers to disguise a salary deduction. The pretext is that the boss will help the worker save by sequestering a portion of his salary, which is promised to be returned to him on completion of the contract maybe a year or two later. Quite often it is not returned at all. It is illegal to withhold any such portion of an employee’s salary.
Security bond: A $5,000 bond that an employer must place with the Ministry of Manpower before he can hire a foreign Work Permit holder. This bond is usually provided by an insurance company. It can be forfeited if the employer (a) fails to repatriate the worker when so directed or (b) fails to pays salary punctually.
Sir: Foreign domestic workers are taught to refer to the male employer as “Sir”. This term has thus been extended from a form of address to a noun, e.g. “My Sir said to pass this package to you.”
Special Pass: A credit card-sized Pass issued either by the Immigration Department or the Ministry for Manpower that allows the holder to remain in Singapore for a defined (usually short) duration. It is renewable. A Special Pass is issued when a foreigner has a reason to remain in Singapore, e.g. he has an ongoing salary or injury compensation claim, or is needed as a witness in an investigation. Holders of Special Passes are not allowed to work. Not to be confused with S-Pass.
T – Z
Temporary Job Scheme (TJS): Migrant workers with an ongoing claim may be allowed by the Ministry of Manpower to take up employment for a period of six months in specially-approved jobs, so that the workers can support themselves through the period of their claims. Once a worker takes up a TJS job, he is issued with a Work Permit and enjoys all the protections that a Work Permit entails. Permission to be on TJS can be extended.
Training Employment Pass: A credit card-sized Pass issued by the Ministry of Manpower that permits the holder to work in a specified job with a specified employer for a training period of six months.
Transfer: Besides the usual meaning of this word, there may be situations where it indicates a more specific meaning, which is that of a migrant worker changing from one employer to another without first being repatriated. This person does not join the new job by flying in from his home country but is already here in Singapore, having ended a previous job.
Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM): A body closely associated with the Ministry of Manpower that conducts mediation between employers and employees in the event of an employment dispute. Typically, it is salary cases that go there. If mediation is successful, parties sign a Settlement Agreement that can be registered with the courts. If mediation is unsuccessful, the schema is that cases should be sent to the Employment Claims Tribunal — but TWC2 has noticed that this is not always done.
TWC2: Transient Workers Count Too.
Undocumented migrant: A person who is in the country without a legal right to remain or without official identity papers. In most countries, undocumented migrants are of two main kinds: (a) those who entered the country without proper entry documents or checks; and (b) those who entered legally but overstayed their visas. Those born in the country but without official papers are also included within the term ‘undocumented’ though they are not migrants. In Singapore’s case, TWC2 believes that we have very few undocumented persons here, and that virtually all of them would be in the overstayer category. See also “Overstayer”.
Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA): The legislation providing protection to employees in the event that they have suffered an injury at work. Also includes occupational diseases. The law requires all employers to purchase insurance of a minimum standard of cover. It sets out reporting requirements, provides for medical leave wages (more generously than the Employment Act) and compensation for permanent disability resulting from the incident.
Work Pass: An umbrella term that includes all the various types of passes that enable the holders to work in Singapore. See also “Work Permit”, “S-Pass”, “Employment Pass” and “Training Employment Pass”.
Work Permit: A credit card-sized Pass issued by the Ministry of Manpower that permits the holder to work in a specified job with a specified employer. A Work Permit is one of three main kinds of Work Passes — the others being S-Pass and Employment Pass — and is for lower-skill jobs.
Yellow hat: A term used by construction and shipyard workers to mean the grunt worker — those on the lowest rung of the ladder — who are assigned yellow helmets.