Prevent Errant Employers from Gaming the System
This letter was submitted to the Straits Times’ forum page and an edited version was published on 3 January 2017.
We refer to the article ‘50 workers say firm owes at least 2 months’ wages’ (Dec 21, The Straits Times).
Unpaid wages is one of the most common issues faced by construction workers in Singapore. In 2016 alone, HOME assisted over 400 construction workers with salary-related complaints.
While MOM has attempted to address the information asymmetry between workers and employers, recalcitrant employers continue to circumvent the system. For far too many workers whose claims succeed on paper, the business folds up overnight only to open again later under a new name. This leaves the workers without recourse in recovering their rightful wages, as employers shift assets from one legal entity to another. Meanwhile, workers are only partly paid out of settlements from the insurer. Workers like the 50 men featured have to navigate through a system that favours mediation over enforcement, leaving them with little choice but to accept a settlement usually less than what they are owed.
While waiting for resolution of their salary claims, most of them cannot work as the Temporary Job Scheme (TJS) is only granted to workers who are required as prosecution witnesses. Permission to switch employers is allowed under exceptional circumstances. But workers find it tough to look for jobs. Basic needs like shelter, transport and even food become daily anxieties when employers neglect their upkeep obligations. Faced with the cost of staying on in Singapore, most workers have no choice but to abandon their claims.
Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics