Bosses who don't pay staff face arrest on the spot

MOM training officers in use of handcuffs and police batons

Bosses who do not pay their workers face tougher action from April 1, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN 
Bosses who do not pay their workers face tougher action from April 1, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN 

BOSSES who do not pay their workers face tougher action from today.

A low-profile change to the Employment Act kicks in today, giving Manpower Ministry (MOM) officials the power to arrest errant employers on the spot.

This is on top of higher fines that the ministry can hand out to these employers, even without having to haul them to court.

The maximum fine that does not involve court proceedings has jumped to $5,000 from $1,000.

To signal that it means business, the ministry is sending its staff for professional training on the use of handcuffs and police batons.

The Straits Times has learnt that the MOM approached prospective trainers last week to draw up a training programme to enable its officers to be "adequately equipped with the knowledge and skill in executing an arrest".

The training will include "procedures involving the use of handcuffs or flex-cuffs, execution of searches on the accused and the escort of an accused person", said the ministry to trainers in a letter obtained by The Straits Times asking them to propose the fees for their training services.

The officers will also be taught how to protect themselves if someone resists arrest. They are expected to pass both written and practical tests in the next three months.

When contacted, the MOM said the tougher penalties and increased powers for its officers will "facilitate the enforcement" of the enhanced laws.

"Inspecting officers will be adequately trained to enforce the Employment Act in a professional manner," said a spokesman.

The tougher actions against errant firms are among several wide-ranging changes to the Employment Act taking effect today.

The monthly salary ceiling under the labour law has been raised from $2,000 to $2,500, which puts 150,000 more rank-and-file workers under its protection.

A further 300,000 professionals, managers and executives earning up to $4,500 a month are now protected against unfair dismissal and will be able to claim sick leave benefits. Prior to the changes, these workers did not have these rights.

Firms will also have to pay overtime to non-manual workers earning up to $2,500 a month, although the monthly salary used to calculate their overtime pay is capped at $2,250 to help keep labour costs down.

Even as the new rules on overtime pay kicks in, a global survey by recruitment firm Hays has found that one in three employers says their staff are clocking up more overtime work.

Two in five say those extra hours are unpaid.

Hays surveyed 2,600 employers in Asia in the report, released yesterday. It was not clear how many were Singapore-based.

Some firms were surprised when told by The Straits Times that bosses can now be arrested by MOM for not paying workers.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said that the use of such powers should only be limited to the minority of errant firms which "blatantly disregard the law".

"Most small and medium enterprises are law-abiding," he added.

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