Wage dispute? Foreign workers sign up to help peers in trouble

Mr Veluchamy Muniapparaj, an operations executive at a workers' dormitory, flanked by Mr Munusamy Sugumar (far left) and Mr Vadivel Sakthivel, whom he had advised on how to recover their unpaid wages.
Mr Veluchamy Muniapparaj, an operations executive at a workers' dormitory, flanked by Mr Munusamy Sugumar (far left) and Mr Vadivel Sakthivel, whom he had advised on how to recover their unpaid wages.ST PHOTO: DAVE LIM

In 2011, Mr Veluchamy Muniapparaj found himself in a bind when the company he worked for stopped paying his wages for three months.

Fears familiar to migrant workers came into play: Would he be sent home if he complained? Would he ever get the $7,800 he was owed?

Then he read an article in a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) newsletter which provided advice on wage disputes.

After getting his money back, Mr Muniapparaj used the experience to help other workers.

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In November 2014, he signed up to be a volunteer with MOM's Foreign Worker Ambassador programme.

Last night, the 31-year-old Indian national received the Star Ambassador Award at the MOM's first appreciation dinner for its Foreign Worker Ambassadors at the MOM Services Centre in Bendemeer.

REACHING OUT IN MANDARIN

Now I can say simple things like, 'How are you? I am Raj, I am from India.' When I speak in Mandarin, they are very happy, the rapport between us is very good. When my Mandarin improves, I can pass on information from MOM to other Chinese workers.

MR VELUCHAMY MUNIAPPARAJ, a volunteer with Ministry of Manpower's Foreign Worker Ambassador programme who started taking Mandarin classes.

Two other Indian workers also received the award from Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say at the event, which was attended by about 300 foreign workers.

Mr Muniapparaj, who works as an operations executive at a workers' dormitory, has helped a number of workers since he started.

Recently he advised fellow Tamil Nadu residents - Mr Munusamy Sugumar, 22, and Mr Vadivel Sakthivel, 25 - on how they can secure their unpaid wages.

The pair, who worked as construction site supervisors for a firm in Short Street, had not been paid for three months and were each owed $6,900.

Said Mr Sugumar, who arrived here in June last year: "I was told that we could go to the Ministry of Manpower, but we were scared that they would send us home.

"My family was also worried, because it was three months' salary."

Both men eventually recovered their unpaid wages and can start looking for new jobs once the case is closed.

About 1,400 workers are now part of the ambassadors programme, a peer adviser scheme initiated in November 2014.

It was introduced when the authorities realised most foreign workers sought advice from their friends before approaching government agencies.

Speaking at the dinner yesterday, Mr Kevin Teoh, divisional director of MOM's foreign manpower management division, said there is greater acceptance and trust when advice is given out by peers.

The ambassadors, he said, can help newly arrived foreign workers ease into life here, and advise fellow workers on what they can do when they face employment-related problems.

"We understand that working in a foreign country and being away from home can be stressful.

"If you see any of your friends showing signs of depression, please advise them to seek help," he said.

Most of the volunteers in the programme are either Bangladeshi or Indian nationals, with a small proportion of Thai and Chinese workers.

Mr Muniapparaj has recently started taking Mandarin classes to help Chinese workers with employment-related issues.

"Now I can say simple things like, 'How are you? I am Raj, I am from India.'

"When I speak in Mandarin, they are very happy, the rapport between us is very good," he said.

"When my Mandarin improves, I can pass on information from MOM to other Chinese workers."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Wage dispute? Foreign workers sign up to help peers in trouble'. Print Edition | Subscribe