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Electronic payments mandatory upon foreign workers' request

  • The Straits Times (23 June 2015): Electronic payments mandatory upon foreign workers' request
  • The Straits Times (17 June 2015): More foreign workers seek help over wage woes

Electronic payments mandatory upon foreign workers' request 
- The Straits Times, 23 June 2015 

  1. Mr Alex Au suggested that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) mandate electronic payment of salaries for foreign workers, and allow mobility for them to change employers ("Ensure pay is banked, offer mobility"; last Wednesday).
  2. Our laws already require employers of work permit holders (WPHs) to pay salaries electronically if the workers make this request, and a majority of them are receiving their salaries in this manner. However, some WPHs still prefer to be paid in cash.
  3. MOM takes a tough enforcement stance against employers who wilfully deny workers their salaries, whatever the mode of payment.
  4. Victimised WPHs are typically given a two-week window to find new employers while their cases are being investigated.
  5. Mr Au would know that the MOM has a history of working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Transient Workers Count Too, and has exercised flexibility for deserving cases.
  6. For WPHs who are unable to - or in some cases, unwilling to - continue working, MOM will work with NGO partners to assist these workers until their cases are concluded, and facilitate their return home to start life anew.

More foreign workers seek help over wage woes
- The Straits Times, 17 June 2015

Sunday's report ("More foreign workers seek help over wage woes") mentioned that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will be making it mandatory for employers to issue itemised payslips next year. 

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) will be glad to see this long-overdue requirement in place.

However, this is only half the solution. The other half that also needs to be made compulsory is payment through bank transfers. This is because payslips only show how the salaries have been calculated. They do not show whether salaries were paid, or paid in full.

TWC2 regularly sees cases where workers report that their signatures have been forged on payment vouchers to make the documentation look like they had been paid.

Even countries in the Middle East, long accused of treating migrant workers badly, have made bank transfers compulsory. Singapore's inaction is shameful by comparison.

Sunday's report also had an MOM spokesman advising workers with salary claims to seek help early. Such "advice" will be fruitless unless MOM first addresses the structural inequities faced by foreign workers. Any worker who lodges a complaint against his employer will almost surely lose his job.

The MOM does not allow workers to stay on to look for another job except in special cases, and even then, such workers, based on TWC2's documented cases, mostly do not land alternative jobs at all. Partly, this is because the MOM gives them only two weeks to do so, simply too short a time. Moreover, lodging a complaint does not mean a worker gets his salary arrears paid to him.

The great majority of salary cases seen by TWC2 result in workers getting less than a third of what they are owed. Workers know this. Lodging a complaint more than likely makes a worker's situation worse, not better. This explains why workers delay lodging complaints until they are desperately broke.

TWC2 has long proposed to the MOM that workers should be free to change jobs. At the same time, curbs should be placed on employers hiring fresh workers from abroad, to give workers already here a better chance of securing alternative jobs.

This will also help retain skills and experience in Singapore. Giving workers job mobility, allowing them to quit and go elsewhere, is what will make employers think twice before holding back salaries. It should also reduce the dispute-resolution workload at MOM.