Labour court to hear workers' complaint over unpaid wages

Mr Ali Paresh (gesturing) together with four of his compatriots who have allegedly not been paid by their employer, Heng Shun Construction. Their complaint against the company is due to be heard behind closed doors at the labour court today.
Mr Ali Paresh (gesturing) together with four of his compatriots who have allegedly not been paid by their employer, Heng Shun Construction. Their complaint against the company is due to be heard behind closed doors at the labour court today.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

For several months last year, Bangladeshi worker Ali Paresh and nine of his countrymen toiled 10 hours a day, six days a week to build the new extensions at Park View Primary School and Elias Park Primary School.

"It was very hard work. Even though it was raining we didn't stop working because our boss wanted to build the schools fast," said the 41-year-old, whose employer has allegedly not paid him or his nine compatriots since last July.

As a result, his two sons aged seven and nine may have to drop out of primary school in Bangladesh this year as their father could not send money home.

Mr Paresh, who began working for Heng Shun Construction from the middle of last year, said he stopped receiving his wages about two months into the job.

The 10 construction workers lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in October last year, claiming their employer owed them about $4,000 each in unpaid wages.

Their monthly basic salary is $650 and they can earn up to $1,000 per month with overtime.

Their complaint is due to be heard behind closed doors at the labour court today.

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) records show that Heng Shun Construction was set up in March 2014. It is owned by Mr Qian Yufei, a Chinese national in his 40s who is a Singapore permanent resident. The firm has two other shareholders, both of whom are Chinese nationals based in Jiangsu and Liaoning in China.

The company, which has a paid-up capital of $100,000, does not have a physical office here. Letters to the firm are sent to a shell office at International Plaza.

When contacted, Mr Qian admitted that he owes the 10 Bangladeshi workers their salaries, but denied not paying them for up to four months. "It is one or two months at most," he said in Mandarin over the phone. "Maybe $1,000 each, because their salary is low."

He claimed that he has a cash-flow problem because he has not been paid by two main contractors. "I would have paid them if I have the money," he said.

He also blamed the workers for being impatient and complaining to MOM without giving him a chance to pay them.

"I will be closing down the company soon and I will try to pay the workers in my personal capacity," he said. "I have been working in Singapore for 16 years and I got my permanent residency in 2008. I won't run away."

Social worker Jevon Ng, from the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), said such cases of unpaid salary involving foreign workers are "very common" and could increase, given the economic slowdown.

The workers approached Home for help last month and received financial aid of $40 each as well as counselling.

MOM has arranged for the workers to stay at a shelter run by the Migrant Workers' Centre, an advocacy group for foreign workers that is backed by the National Trades Union Congress.

Mr Paresh is hopeful that he will get his salary back. "Singapore has good laws. I want to work here. I want my boys to study," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Labour court to hear workers' complaint over unpaid wages'. Print Edition | Subscribe