Skip to main content

Workers' Rights Protected by Law: MOM

The Straits Times (30 January 2009) : Workers' Rights Protected by Law: MOM


The Straits Times (24 January 2009) : Make Protection More Far-reaching

The Straits Times (24 January 2009) : Wage Claims Still Difficult in Practice


Workers' Rights Protected by Law: MOM
- The Straits Times, 30 January 2009

I refer to the letters "Wage claims still difficult in practice" and "Make protection more far-reaching" (ST, 24 Jan).

2.   Mr Chew has misunderstood the reporting system. The two-week period he cites refers only to the e-appointment facility offered on the MOM website. Workers can make a report at MOM counters on any working day. Furthermore, if it is not possible for the matter to be resolved in time, MOM will extend the worker's stay, and the employer continues to be responsible for the worker's upkeep. Workers who have signed agreements with employers waiving their statutory rights will continue to have their rights protected under the law. Such arrangements are of no effect under the law.  

3.   Every foreign worker is given a handbook in his native language by MOM when he starts work in Singapore. The information provided educates the worker on his rights and responsibilities while working in Singapore. It also includes avenues to seek redress if he has any employment issue. Over the years, the Ministry has also embarked on public education campaigns and roadshows at dormitories to raise foreign workers' awareness of their employment rights.

4.   Mr Gee was concerned that workers merely get half of what they are due. We would like to clarify that this is not because the arrears have been reduced due to unequal bargaining power. Rather, in such cases, workers typically agree with their employers to use part of their owed salaries to settle their obligations committed outside Singapore. Apart from helping the workers to secure their salary arrears and other employment benefits, MOM also takes firm action against errant employers. But it would not be practical for MOM to seek to regulate obligations incurred by foreign workers in their home countries as it is beyond the Ministry's jurisdiction. MOM, however, has been providing information on errant employment agents in other countries to the relevant embassies for their follow up. 


Make Protection More Far-reaching
- The Straits Times, 24 January 2009

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) makes some fair points in its defence of its record against critical remarks by Mr Jolovan Wham. We appreciate that there are protections for migrant workers in Singapore's laws and that workers whose permits have been cancelled have certain recourses to seek resolution of their grievances. That said, it will surprise no one that we wish for protective measures to be more far-reaching and comprehensive. We still think there are problem areas in the handling of cases of workers whose permits have been cancelled, and it was perhaps these that provoked Mr Wham's comments. For example, workers who need to stay in Singapore while a case is resolved have little means with which to survive, and may therefore feel undue pressure to accept a resolution of their case that leaves them well short of full compensation.

MOM seeks to mediate honestly in resolving employer-employee disputes over wage questions, but in conditions where the employer lives in comfort and security and the worker may be shelterless and hungry, the outcome may be prejudiced by circumstances outside the mediation process. This can mean workers getting half of what they are due according to the laws.

MOM raises serious practical considerations about Mr Wham's proposal for workers to be compensated for their remaining contract period when their employment is terminated early. If it seems unrealistic to compensate workers for the whole of this period, though, two points may be considered. One is that it is all the more important that workers should be paid in full for the time they have already been employed. The other is that most workers have gone into debt to come to work in Singapore, and, just as a citizen might expect to be fully reimbursed by a shop when an item it has sold does not work, so these workers have a legitimate claim to recover their outlay.

It is not just a job for Singapore: It needs attention in the workers' home countries too, where a large portion of the debt was originally accrued. But Singapore should surely expect to play some role in ensuring that such workers do not return home poorer than when they decided to come here.  


Wage Claims Still Difficult in Practice
- The Straits Times, 24 January 2009

I am writing in response to Tuesday's letter by the Ministry of Manpower, 'Help with foreign workers' wage claims'.

Contrary to what was stated - that foreign workers' claims will be 'investigated and pursued, even if they have returned to their home countries', so long as they have lodged a claim with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) - I am obliged to agree with migrant worker activist Jolovan Wham that Singapore's labour laws offer little real protection to foreign workers.

I have personally encountered cases where workers cannot even meet MOM officers to discuss the injustice done to them by their employers because their work permits have been cancelled. From what I understand, a worker cannot remain in Singapore for more than seven days once his work permit has been cancelled by his employer, for whatever reason. How is a worker supposed to make a claim when repatriation is a week away and booking a meeting with an MOM officer requires at least two weeks' notice?

MOM also requires the claimant to be present for a claim to go through. If the worker has been repatriated, why can't he authorise someone else to make his claim? I would also like to know if there is a basic understanding between MOM and other agencies and companies hiring foreign workers regarding the workers' contractual rights. I ask this because I have seen companies force foreign workers to sign a 'memorandum of understanding' making the workers liable to pay for everything (from air tickets to worker's levy) should they make any mistake in their work. How can we claim to be a country which puts the law above everything else when dishonest employers and agents bully these people who have given so much to build a country where they cannot stand on an equal footing? I suggest that foreign workers be briefed on their constitutional or human rights before they start work. Or, at the very least, provide them with a brochure or booklet informing them of the dos and don'ts, as well as privileges accorded to them.