The large majority of employers obey Labour Court orders to pay their workers, an advocacy group for foreign workers said yesterday.
Those who do not comply with these orders - mostly related to salaries owed or injury compensation - often do not have the money to do so "due to forces beyond their control", Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) chairman Yeo Guat Kwang told The Straits Times.
"These employers harbour little or no wilful intention to short- change or exploit their workers," he said in a statement. The "very small group of employers" with the means to pay workers, but who are "wilfully non-compliant", is of greatest concern to the MWC. "We call on the authorities to take stern action against them," he added.
Mr Yeo said the MWC works closely with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to see how current systems can be improved to better protect migrant workers.
He said the MWC has asked the authorities to widely publicise successful prosecutions of errant employers, "so that a strong example is made of offenders and a firm message of non-tolerance of such behaviour is sent to all employers".
It also suggested that MOM improve the monitoring and enforcement of work injury compensation insurance so that injured workers get paid.
The "very small group of employers" with the means to pay workers, but who are "wilfully non-compliant", is of greatest concern to the MWC. "We call on the authorities to take stern action against them," Mr Yeo added.
Mr Yeo, a National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant director-general, was responding to Straits Times reports this month on the plight of Bangladeshi construction workers Islam Rafiqul and Sujan Ahmed, whose employers did not pay them salary or compensation despite being ordered by the Labour Court to do so.
A commentary on Thursday also called for the Labour Court to be given more powers so that the workers do not have to enforce the payment orders themselves.
Mr Yeo said the MWC has helped migrant workers enforce such orders in the last two years. Workers getlodging and $1,000 to $3,000 in goodwill payments while waiting for complaints to be processed.
The MWC was set up by the NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation in 2009.
Earlier this month, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say told Parliament in a written reply that the Labour Court heard 6,000 complaints of salary disputes a year in the past two years.
In about 1,400 cases each year, the Labour Court ordered employers to pay workers. But in about 350 cases, the employers defaulted on the Labour Court's orders.
Mr Yeo said of the current system: "It is important to note that while our system addresses the needs of most workers, there... remain cases such as that of worker Sujan Ahmed that fall through the cracks."