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Fined $1 per minute for being late for work

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 26, 2013

A 20-year-old who had trouble getting to work on time has complained to the Manpower Ministry that her former employer cut $1 from her pay for every minute she was late.

Then, when she lost an Excel computer file she was working on and did not keep a back-up, the company cut 70 per cent of her $1,500 pay.

She said she refused to accept a pay cheque for just $311 - after deductions for being late and losing the file - but she then went unpaid for two months.

By early April, after receiving repeated "warning letters" chiding her for poor performance, she sent the company an e-mail saying she wanted to quit.

But under the terms of her one-year contract, she would have to pay three months' salary to leave ahead of time.

The company does not deny that it penalised her for being late and losing the computerised file, but claims it did so to make her buck up at work.

She is seeking to recover two months in unpaid wages and deductions for latecoming.

Both sides spoke to The Sunday Times on condition that they are not named, as the case is still before the ministry.

Diploma holder Amanda Lin (name changed) contacted The Sunday Times in the wake of a widely circulated video showing a supervisor at another company repeatedly slapping a young male worker.

Both work in small companies in the IT industry. There are more than 150,000 small and medium-sized companies in Singapore.

"The video made me realise that more young workers may be suffering in silence," said the bespectacled young woman who is now looking for work.

The eldest of four children said she began working as a "project coordinator" at the company last September and it helped her pay her $1,200 monthly fees for night classes at a private university.

Problems started in her first couple of weeks at work when she did not arrive by 9am and kept arriving around 20 minutes late. The company suggested pushing back her start time to 9.30am but said it would start docking $1 for every minute she was late.

She said she was late because at first she took a shuttle bus and had to change trains twice to get to work. Later, she found a direct bus, but would often get caught in rush-hour traffic.

She said she was not late every day, and her worst record in a single month was being a total of 139 minutes late, or roughly 7.5 minutes each day.

She knew she was in the wrong and tried to make up by taking a shorter lunch break and leaving the office later, but she was still fined.

"Still I did not complain, thinking I was late after all," she said.

But she was upset to see her $311 pay cheque because, she said, she had redone the work on the file. "That's when I realised, hey this is not right, especially since I worked very hard to re-do the file," she said.

Lawyer Mark Goh, who has represented employers and employees in workplace disputes, said if her allegations are correct, the company may have flouted the Employment Act in a number of ways.

First, while employers can make deductions for latecoming on a pro-rated basis, what Ms Lin was subjected to appears to have been excessive.

Also, under the same Act, workers generally cannot be charged more than 25 per cent of their salary for destroying or damaging office property or documents.

"If an employee frequently under-performs, the employer has the option to fire her," said Mr Goh. "Withholding her pay while expecting her to do her work can be seen as exploitation."

Labour MP Zainal Sapari, who heads an NTUC unit for contract workers like Ms Lin, said workers should consider joining unions to get advice and better protection should disputes arise with their employer.

"You can join a union as a general member even if you are a contract worker and your company is not unionised," he said.

radhab@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 26, 2013

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