Construction firm owes 268 migrant workers wages: MOM

MOM found that Shanghai Chong Kee has partially paid all 268 workers, with the remainder to be covered by instalment plans. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - In a twist, a construction firm that engaged a sub-contractor which owed five migrant workers wages was found to be owing salaries to 268 of its own workers, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) investigation has found.

The firm, Shanghai Chong Kee, has partially paid all 268 migrant workers, with the remainder to be covered by instalment plans that are still being worked out, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad in Parliament on Wednesday.

The firm was in the news in October when 10 migrant workers from its sub-contractor Zhengda Corp blocked the entrance and exit of the NCS Hub compound in Ang Mo Kio Street 62 in protest over unpaid wages.

Shanghai Chong Kee was the main contractor for renovations at the building’s lobby, for which it engaged Zhengda Corp to supply six migrant workers.

An MOM investigation found that five of the 10 were owed wages that Zhengda Corp has since paid.

The incident remains under police investigation, said Mr Zaqy in reply to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who had asked whether the workers involved in the protest would be prosecuted.

“It’s not that the employer had deliberately held back the payments, but we also understand that during these challenging times, sometimes payments are delayed in the construction sector,” added Mr Zaqy without naming any firms.

“So we try to mediate and see how best we can come to a middle ground, because otherwise, if we push too hard and the company folds, it’s not good for the workers either.”

The Straits Times has contacted Shanghai Chong Kee for more information.

In a separate reply, Mr Zaqy said the number of salary claims filed by migrant workers has come down significantly in recent years, with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) handling about 160 salary claims each month in 2022, compared with 410 a month in 2019.

He also noted that migrant workers are required to attend a settling-in programme that covers, in their native languages, the support channels available, as well as lawful and responsible behaviour, including laws against unlawful assembly or procession in public places.

The ministry and its partners also routinely disseminate information to remind these workers of their employment rights and encourage them to seek help from MOM and TADM for salary claims, he added.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang said in Parliament on Wednesday that MOM received about 660 reports a year from 2015 to 2021 on firms inflating their foreign worker quota by making Central Provident Fund contributions to locals who are not employees.

She was responding to a question from Workers’ Party MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) on the number of employers found to have engaged such “phantom workers”.

In the same period, about 11 employers a year were found to have breached rules against inflating their quota, for which they received administrative financial penalties, Ms Gan said. The median penalty meted out was $15,000, with penalties ranging from $1,250 to $200,000.

Other actions taken against the employers included issuing cautions, directions to rectify breaches, and barring them from hiring migrant workers, Ms Gan added.

On why the ministry found so few employers in breach when the number of reports was far higher, she said that the smaller proportion is normal.

The complainants may not have the full facts, which surface only upon investigation by MOM, Ms Gan said.

She added: “A complainant who sees a shop full of foreigners may not be aware that there are actually locals working at the back end or off-site, and in such cases, there is no infringement committed and no enforcement action taken.”

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