Justice for workers, not quick fixes

Amazingly, the company at the centre of last December’s story about unpaid wages to Chinese workers is involved in another dispute with a new batch of employees. Meanwhile the Ministry of Manpower helps employers underpay their workers by arranging “settlements” which offer less than what workers are entitled to. No need to refer to employment contracts or timesheets, it seems, to calculate correct amounts. Full essay.

10 Responses to “Justice for workers, not quick fixes”

  1. 1 Estrea 7 June 2009 at 00:35

    Unfortunately, this sort of unfair treatment isn’t just limited to foreign workers, older blue collar locals also get similar treatment. For example, my own father, already in his 50s, is forced to work hours of overtime without compensation, and when he brought the matter to MOM, he was told that he could only claim up to one year’s worth of owed overtime pay despite having not received overtime for a period of 6 years, which struck me as a blatant display of favoritism to the employer. To compound matters, the whole settlement process was heavily tilted in favor of the employer as well, and my father was forced to accept a settlement in a lump sum that was barely a third of what he could have legally claimed (discounting the fact that he really should have been able to be reimbursed for all 6 years of unpaid overtime arrears).

    Putting aside my own gripes, all I can say is that in response to the question you put forward in your closing paragraph, it seems that MOM is already doing it to local workers that are past their “use by date”. Fair should be fair, as long as we are all human. Local or foreign, it doesn’t matter.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think we have that kind of organization in place to look out for the average worker’s interest. In other words, we’re screwed! Yeah.

  2. 2 Daniel 7 June 2009 at 20:22

    Singaporeans should not be surprised by how MOM behaves. This is exactly how ministries behave in a dictatorship. There really are no consequences for the civil servants…All those employment laws not being enforced are just meant to show the international community that Singapore is a 1st world “democracy”! They are not meant to actually be enforced!

    Singaporeans should in fact feel fortunate that their ministries are responsive as they are. They could just cover up everything, not bother, and the minister will still be reelected in his walkover. I think that MOM should just forget these foreign workers and use the money that could be used to hire enforcement officers to fund a new bonus for the minister. After all, he is the one who ensures that Singapore gets enough slave workers to build those new casinos! The workers are kind of dumb to go to Singapore anyway…they somehow put their trust into a dictatorship.

    Now I’ll be criticized because some idiot can’t understand satire.

    • 3 Daughter of Jephthah (and we thought Shylock was bad) 8 June 2009 at 12:43

      Yeah, but don’t call him an idiot, he probably really knows Singaporeans who hold as true belief what you write as satire. This is the land of the cosmopolitan country bumpkin.

  3. 4 Truth Ignored 9 June 2009 at 14:16

    Some people may consider themselves as protector of foreign workers,probably even the defender of our society, yet they never take any trouble to probe into some basic fact.

    According to my knowledge, in the construction industry, there are many foreign workers use the so-called non-payment of salary (which is often proven to be lie later) as an excuse to accuse their original employer, and the real purpose of such accusation is just to tear up their service contract,without assuming responsibility for breach of contract. By doing so, they may switch employer to make more money, and even may claim back all agency fees they paid in advance.

    In order to maximize their personal benefit, some workers feel totally free to tell lies and to make up stories to gain sympathy, and thus to force their employers to give in. What they are doing creates lots of chaos both in Singapore as well as in their country of origin. Why people with speical interest in foreign worker-related issues never mention this real intention of the workers who request for unilateral termination of their contract? Bread, can you answer this question?

  4. 5 Robert L 9 June 2009 at 21:01

    Thank you for this article, Yawningbread. Your humanitarian effort is most commendable.

    I can make your arguement more effective by 200%.

    Consider this: the more that foreign workers are allowed to be mistreated by employers, the more the employers will find it cheaper to employ them, to the detriment of Singaporean workers.

    In reverse, if our community strengthen our demands that foreign workers must be given fair treatment, then the employers will find the cost of foreign workers going up. The employers cannot cut costs anymore by siphoning away workers’ wages or housing them in deplorable conditions. At some point on the scale, we will find that the wages of Singaporean workers will be better able to compete.

    In a kind of perverse logic, if you like to view as such, it is completely sensible that supporting the fair and just treatment of foreign workers have the effect of helping Singaporean workers compete for jobs.

  5. 6 yawningbread 9 June 2009 at 22:59

    Robert L:

    I agree with you. It is bad enough that importing foreign labour tends to depress overall wages, although when it comes to jobs Singaporeans don’t want to do, there may be no choice. It is worse that the depressed wages are sometimes not even paid, therefore lowering further the effective rate for labour.

    Truth Ignored:

    That may be so, but isn’t it funny then that employers end up offering some lump sum, rather than suing the workers? Also, a handful of workers may wish to lie and accuse employers wrongly to get out of contracts, but when 200, 400, 800 of them are upset, one has to say, there’s no smoke without fire.

    • 7 Amalekite Infant 9 June 2009 at 23:24

      “although when it comes to jobs Singaporeans don’t want to do, there may be no choice.”

      There is something else going on. In the US and Australia and Hong Kong, janitorial and construction work is done by locals.

  6. 8 tk 10 June 2009 at 09:23

    “The question before us is a question of justice.”

    You wonder when a group of idealistic young Singaporean lawyers might form a legal aid group to help foreign workers who have been denied fair recompense to sue their employer in an open court for straighforward breach of contract? this would bypass the MOM and its brokered settlements altogether, even if the workers have to leave the country in the meantime, and would send one may argue a stronger message to any employers considering ‘doing the dirty’.

  7. 9 yawningbread 15 June 2009 at 13:13


    I have disallowed a comment which alleged that contractors are not to blame for not paying their workers; it is the labour agents who rake off the profits and that the labour agents are linked to the “Lees, Hos and Kwas”, reference to the families of the prime minister. The opinion came with no substantiation whatsoever and is potentially defamatory. For that reason, the comment was barred.

    • 10 Dirty 17 June 2009 at 12:53

      Goodness. It’s a blog comment, not a bill of indictment for a grand jury. You expect affidavits and statutory declarations?

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