Prevent errant employers from gaming the system

Unpaid wages is one of the most common issues faced by construction workers in Singapore ("50 workers say firm owes at least 2 months' wages"; Dec 21, 2016).

Last year, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics assisted over 400 construction workers with salary-related complaints.

While the Manpower Ministry has tried to address the information asymmetry between workers and employers, recalcitrant employers continue to circumvent the system.

Far too often, workers' claims succeed on paper, but the business folds overnight, only to open again later under a new name.

This leaves the workers without recourse in recovering their rightful wages, as the assets are shifted from one legal entity to another. Meanwhile, workers are only partly paid out of settlements from the insurer.

Workers have to navigate a system that favours mediation over enforcement, leaving them with little choice but to accept a settlement that is usually less than what they are owed.

While waiting for the resolution of their salary claims, most of them cannot work, as the Temporary Job Scheme is granted only 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.

Jacqueline Tan (Ms)

Communications/Partnerships Executive

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline 'Prevent errant employers from gaming the system'. Print Edition | Subscribe