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Help With Foreign Workers’ Wage Claims

The Straits Times (20 January 2009) :  Help With Foreign Workers' Wage Claims


The Straits Times (14 January 2009) : 55 Foreign Workers Get the Boot


Help With Foreign Workers' Wage Claims
- The Straits Times, 20 January 2009

I refer to your report, “55 foreign workers get the boot” (14 Jan) in which Jolovan Wham, a migrant worker activist, was quoted as saying that Singapore's labour laws offered little real protection to foreign workers. He implied that they are unable to seek redress once the workers' work permits are cancelled.

2.   This is inaccurate. Salary claims of foreign workers are usually resolved before they return to their home countries, except in certain situations such as when the company is being placed under liquidation. Under those circumstances it would take a longer time to pursue the workers' salary claims. Nevertheless, as long as foreign workers have lodged their salary claims with MOM, their cases would be investigated and pursued even if they have returned to their home countries. Any monies recovered would be remitted to them.

3.   Mr Wham had also called for foreign workers to be compensated for the remaining period of their work permits when their employment is terminated. This is impractical as we cannot ignore the reality that in an economic downturn, the demand for workers will fall. This will impact both local and foreign workers.

4.   When employers and workers are unable to settle employment disputes on their own, they should approach the Ministry for advice and assistance in seeking a resolution. If workers have salary claims or other complaints, they should report to the Ministry early for help to recover their entitlements. Separately, the Ministry has stepped up its enforcement action to ensure that employers pay their workers in accordance with their employment contracts and the Employment Act. Employers who have violated the law may face prosecution action and debarment from employing foreign workers.


55 Foreign Workers Get the Boot
- The Straits Times, 14 January 2009

Contractor sends group of Bangladeshis home, citing delay in projects

YET another group of foreign workers has encountered problems and is going home jobless and in debt.

Yesterday, 55 Bangladeshis employed by construction sub-contractor Tunnel & Shaft began returning home, after working here for seven months or less.

The workers were briefed by staff on travel and compensation arrangements through translators on Monday. They had been given a week's notice.

The company's directors, twins Ben and David Sim, 48, said the workers were being released as there was not enough work for them.

The workers were recruited last year in anticipation of two major projects, estimated to be worth $20 million. But the projects have been delayed, due to the economic climate, and the company says it cannot afford to keep idle workers.

So it is sending them home for two months, and hopes to bring them back when the economy picks up.

Following Monday's discussions, the company worked out a deal which will give each worker a flat compensation rate of $1,000. However, if they are re-employed by the company, they must each return $500.

It is the first time in more than a decade of employing foreign workers that Tunnel & Shaft has faced such problems.

Workers whom The Straits Times spoke to were mostly concerned about their financial situation. Many of them had taken bank loans to pay their agent fees of between $7,000 and $9,000 each.

Some of the workers, who have been working here for only two months, are still in debt to the tune of over $8,000.

Mr Hosain, 23, said there was no job for him at home. Others like Mr Suman, 24, who has been here for six months, said he paid $8,000 to come here.

These workers are not the only ones out of a job.

Mr Jolovan Wham, spokesman for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said hundreds of laid-off shipyard workers have approached the organisation in recent months with payment and employment issues.

Mr Wham cited a case of 30 Bangladeshis who were due to leave this week, after being told by their employers there was no work for them. They received their salaries only after intervention by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

He said foreign workers here are given little real protection.

'They can complain to MOM, but this does not amount to much; once their work permits are cancelled, they must go,' he said.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Halimah Yacob said the economic downturn caught many companies by surprise, leaving them with extra foreign workers.

'This is quite unexpected but they cannot keep the workers with no work at cost to them,' she said.

But NTUC Migrant Workers' Forum chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said: 'No matter how bad times are, companies must adhere to the terms and conditions they have promised the workers.'