More ex-employees filed claims against Honestbee for non-payment of salaries in past month: MOM

Honestbee has been required to provide an update to MOM on its plans for salary payment to its current employees. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A total of 77 former employees of struggling start-up Honestbee have filed claims for non-payment of salaries as of last Wednesday (March 11).

Of these, 16 claims were filed in the past month and their cases scheduled for mediation in March, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in response to media queries.

Honestbee has been required to provide an update to MOM on its plans for salary payment to its current employees.

The firm said last week that it has laid off around 80 per cent of its 130 employees in Singapore and that it was delaying payment of salaries and Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions to staff "until further funding can be secured".

The Straits Times understands that a reason for the layoffs was Honestbee's investors' unwillingness to provide funding for paying salaries of employees who had no work.

MOM confirmed that the start-up owes its employees salaries for February, as well as their CPF contributions for both January and February this year.

A spokesman for the ministry noted that Honestbee had committed to a repayment schedule for former employees over five instalments from Sept 30 last year.

The firm had complied with the repayment schedule except for the final instalment which was due on Jan 31 to 45 former staff, as well as CPF contributions due to 38 ex-employees on Feb 14, MOM said.

Honestbee had owed more than 200 of its former employees around $1 million in unpaid salaries and CPF contributions.

The ministry and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) have warned the firm to prioritise the final instalment to affected employees and will continue to monitor the repayment.

In its statement, MOM urged all current and former employees of Honestbee with outstanding unpaid salary, including work pass holders, to file their claims with TADM.

Workers who have been retrenched may approach Workforce Singapore and the National Trades Union Congress' Employment and Employability Institute for employment assistance services through the Adapt and Grow initiative, it added.

Under the Employment Act, employers who fail to pay employees' salaries can be fined up to $15,000, jailed up to six months, or both.

Employers who do not make required CPF contributions can be fined up to $5,000 and no less than $1,000 per offence, jailed up to six months under the CPF Act, or both.

The struggling start-up has closed its physical grocery store Habitat in Pasir Panjang since Feb 10, citing the coronavirus outbreak and a fall in walk-in traffic.

Honestbee is also currently under court protection from its creditors, to which it owes around US$230 million (S$320 million).

ST understands that Honestbee is looking to move its business, which had been focusing on the Habitat supermarket, to technology-enabled quick-service restaurants.

The firm, which moved out of its Delta House headquarters in Alexandra Road last month to a shophouse unit in Upper East Coast Road, has also leased a warehouse unit in Genting Lane.

The warehouse space, which spans about 3,000 sq ft, is for the storage of furniture and equipment from its Delta House office.

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