Manpower Ministry looking into 31 labourers' unpaid wages

Foreman Motin Abdul holding up documents related to his salary claim. He and 30 of his fellow Bangladeshi construction workers have sought help from the Manpower Ministry, complaining of unpaid wages.
Foreman Motin Abdul holding up documents related to his salary claim. He and 30 of his fellow Bangladeshi construction workers have sought help from the Manpower Ministry, complaining of unpaid wages. PHOTO: MARCUS TAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

2 local construction firms barred from hiring foreign workers, after employees seek help

In one of the largest cases of unpaid wages this year, two local construction companies are under probe for not paying the salaries of 31 Bangladeshi construction workers and attempting to send them home.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is investigating HBB Engineering and C-Plus Engineering for not paying the workers' wages on time.

Both companies have the same owner, Mr A. B. M. Rafiqul Islam, a Bangladeshi national who is a Singapore permanent resident.

"We are investigating the companies for failing to pay salaries on time and for attempting to send them home without paying their salaries in full, with a view to prosecute them," said an MOM spokesman.

According to MOM, 31 workers sought help from the ministry between January and this month.

 

  • 2

    Number of companies owned by Mr A. B. M. Rafiqul Islam with workers disgruntled over unpaid wages.

    6

    Number of workers paid in full by the employer, after MOM stepped in. The rest of the claims are being mediated.

    $100k

     Amount paid by a company client. The ministry will "see to it that the sums are used to pay the salaries owed to their workers first".

Twenty were from HBB Engineering and 11 from C-Plus Engineering. They were owed between four and eight months' pay.

The ministry stepped in and managed to get the employer to pay six workers in full. The rest of the claims are being mediated, it said.

"MOM has debarred both companies, as well as the company directors involved, from hiring foreign workers," it added.

The affected workers are also getting help from the ministry.

MOM said that it has asked the companies' security bond insurers to help pay the workers and has also asked the companies' clients to make advance payments.

A client has paid $100,000 and the ministry will "see to it that the sums are used to pay the salaries owed to their workers first".

The companies have also undertaken to provide food and accommodation to the workers, MOM noted.

The affected workers had worked at the companies for about a year.

Several of them said that they had mostly worked on estate upgrading projects in Housing Board estates.

"We built (covered) linkways in MacPherson, Sengkang, Boon Keng and Yishun," said foreman Motin Abdul, 28.

The men are paid between $18 and $20 a day, or between $468 and $520 a month in basic pay.

"(With) overtime, we earn about $1,000 a month," Mr Motin said.

But the workers have not been able to send money to their families in Bangladesh for several months.

Foreman Miah Razzak, 38, said, his eyes welling up with tears: "My wife give birth - a baby girl - December. No money to go hospital."

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority records showed that Mr Rafiqul, who is in his 50s, set up HBB Engineering - where he is the director and sole shareholder - in May 2012.

A year later, he set up C-Plus Engineering. He is its sole shareholder. Singaporean Brandon Koo En Quan, who is in his 20s, is the director.

When contacted over the phone, Mr Rafiqul would only say: "Nothing happened."

He declined to answer any questions.

When asked why the workers had waited as long as eight months before they complained to MOM, Mr Motin said: "Boss say if we complain, he cancel work permit and send us home."

Transient Workers Count Too vice-president Russell Heng said workers have a real fear of being sent home because they would have already paid thousands of dollars to work here.

"MOM's advice to workers to complain early does not take into account the reality of the situation," he said.

In response, the ministry said: "Workers should never feel deterred from coming forward to MOM early.

"If the employer attempts to send them home without settling the owed salaries, the workers can and should approach the (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) officers at the airport and they will be assisted and referred to MOM, foiling any forced repatriation attempts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'Ministry looking into 31 labourers' unpaid wages'. Print Edition | Subscribe