All foreign workers who have resumed full-time work must be paid their prevailing salaries, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in response to queries from The Straits Times.
However, it would be unrealistic to impose a uniform requirement across all employers, especially for workers who cannot resume work, it added.
The MOM's position is that employers should engage and mutually agree with their unions and foreign employees on appropriate salary arrangements.
"Imposing a uniform requirement otherwise would result in employers that could give better support paying just the minimum, while employers who cannot afford would have to contractually terminate the employment relationship," said an MOM spokesman.
"We should also bear in mind that there are many employers who have been severely affected by the economic slowdown and would have to implement cost-saving measures, including making adjustments to employees' salaries."
The ministry acknowledged that Covid-19 has brought about unprecedented challenges for both workers and employers.
Whether work can resume is dependent on several factors, including whether suspended projects have restarted and if requirements for safe distancing are in place.
In addition, employers in the construction industry are required to make monthly declarations on salary payments to their foreign workers.
Based on the declarations to MOM, most employers have either paid salaries or were able to pay outstanding salaries after the ministry's intervention.
Due to financial difficulties, some employers were unable to pay owed salaries, MOM said.
It added that the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) has been working directly with financially strained employers and relevant stakeholders to ensure that salaries are paid to workers.
TADM is jointly run by MOM, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation. To date, it has engaged about 750 employers in total on salary matters.
"As a result of these proactive efforts, the number of employers whose foreign workers directly filed salary claims at the TADM between April and July 2020 was about 30 per cent less than the same period last year - about 700 employers this year, compared with 950 employers last year," the MOM spokesman said.
On April 11, MOM issued an advisory to remind employers in the construction sector that they must continue to pay foreign workers in dormitories their salaries electronically within seven days after the end of the salary period.
Foreign workers who do not receive their salaries may contact TADM directly or report to the Forward Assurance and Support Team officers on the ground.
Said the spokesman: "MOM will also take enforcement action against errant employers who fail to pay salaries to their workers, which would include forcing workers to return salaries that have been paid."
Employers who flout salary matters may be penalised with hefty fines or imprisonment.
Under the Employment Act, repeat offenders who fail to make timely payment of salaries to their employees can be fined between $6,000 and $30,000 or jailed for up to a year, or both.
"Regardless of the extent of salary support provided, employers should ensure that they continue to take care of the well-being of all their workers," the MOM spokesman said. "For work permit holders, employers are legally obliged to provide for their upkeep and maintenance.