Bosses of foreign workers ignore court orders to pay up

Workers at a construction site in a photo taken on July 12, 2019.
Workers at a construction site in a photo taken on July 12, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) encounters a problem similar to that of The Association of Women for Action and Research.

It has also seen court orders ignored by the employers of migrant workers who are owed wages (Better enforcement of court orders needed, Aug 30)

We are not aware of any consequences to the employer when this happens.

Migrant workers who have not been paid their salaries or are underpaid are referred to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) when attempts at mediation fail.

When the cases conclude in the workers' favour, many employers do not pay up despite orders by the ECT to do so.

The workers are appalled that there is so little regard for court orders and no viable method of enforcement. We understand that these debts are viewed as a civil, not criminal, matter.

There are several debt recovery options, such as bankruptcy proceedings and writ of seizure and sale. But these options are too costly and time-consuming for migrant workers to pursue.

The workers are appalled that there is so little regard for court orders and no viable method of enforcement. We understand that these debts are viewed as a civil, not criminal, matter.

A pro bono lawyer whom we consulted summed up the situation: "The fundamental problem is that enforcement mechanisms do not come with any assurance that one will get any money at the end of the process."

In one recent case, an employer told us he had no intention of complying with the tribunal's order even though a check with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority showed that his company is still in operation.

In another case, the employer did not even appear at the ECT and became uncontactable.

The Ministry of Manpower's assistance to workers facing such circumstances does little to mitigate their plight.

Prosecuting errant employers, for instance, does not help recover any money. Insurance or ex-gratia payouts do not match even half of the amounts owed. And the ability to seek new employment is not assured, even if granted.

Migrant workers believe strongly in Singapore's legal system and have worked long hours in what should be a fair economic exchange for their hard labour.

Being denied their earnings after winning their claim at the ECT is alarming injustice.

Better protection of salary payments and official enforcement of court orders would benefit not just migrant workers but Singaporeans as well, and ought to be a matter of priority.

Ethan Guo

General Manager

Transient Workers Count Too

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2019, with the headline 'Bosses of foreign workers ignore court orders to pay up'. Print Edition | Subscribe