Stop-work orders

Ensure workers don't end up paying the price

After the recent spate of accidents in the construction sector, the announcement by Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan is a welcome move ("Stiffer penalties for workplace safety lapses"; last Friday).

There is one problem, though, with the use of a three-week stop-work order (instead of the previous two weeks) on errant firms.

An extra week of halted work may cost these firms "tens of thousands in salaries paid", but, as with any stop-work order, it may also result in lost income for the workers, who are the innocent parties in such cases.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower regulations, employers are under obligation to pay their workers their basic salaries, even when they are not working.

Unfortunately, migrant workers employed in the construction sector normally have low basic salaries and rely heavily on overtime work to compensate for that.

For example, a worker paid $3 an hour should receive about $528 in a four-week month. But, if he works the whole of the legal overtime permitted under the Employment Act and is duly paid for that, he will stand to earn a further $324.

An extra week of halted work may cost these firms "tens of thousands in salaries paid", but, as with any stop-work order, it may also result in lost income for the workers, who are the innocent parties in such cases.

He will lose a quarter of that for each week of a stop-work order.

Shouldn't errant employers be obliged to pay workers not only their basic pay, but also their expected pay, based on their normal levels of overtime work and payment?

That will be fairer to workers and will be an additional disincentive to employers who do not take the safety of workers seriously enough.

Otherwise, further steps to enhance safety would be to increase the number of unannounced inspections of worksites, and for there to be a union-backed safety officer on every worksite who can intervene, with the full support of his union, whenever he observes a safety violation, whether to chide a negligent worker or to press an employer to act responsibly.

John Gee

Chairman

Research Sub-Committee

Transient Workers Count Too

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Ensure workers don't end up paying the price'. Print Edition | Subscribe