More foreign workers seek help over wage woes

    Aw Cheng Wei
    Sunday, Jun 14, 2015

    More foreign workers are seeking help with salary disputes, new figures show – and more effort has been spent reaching out to them.

    The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has revealed to The Sunday Times that around 4,500 foreign workers sought its help to resolve such problems last year – 900 more than in 2013.

    The figure covers employment pass, S pass and work permit holders.

    According to previous media reports, there were 1.32 million foreign workers, most of whom were working in the construction and marine sectors, as of August last year.

    At non-governmental organisation Migrant Workers’ Centre, pay woes such as unfair deductions and late or withheld payments account for about 60 per cent of the complaints it receives.

    As of this month, the centre has received about 2,000 complaints regarding late or withheld payments and unfair deductions.

    It expects that by December, it would have received a total of about 4,000 complaints – the same number as last year.

    Executive director Bernard Menon said: “The numbers were increasing, but they have hovered around (4,000) in the past three years.”

    At the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics, a human rights group, 398 workers lodged salary complaints last year – up from 281 in 2013.

    The ministry has stepped up efforts to help foreign workers in the past year, which could explain the rise in complaints, a spokesman said.

    Initiatives include holding roadshows where construction workers live, to inform them of their employment rights.

    Mr Menon said: “More workers with problems will approach us when word gets around (the community) that we can help them get their money back.”

    According to a survey of 328 workers conducted by Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) last year, only one in three migrant workers was paid correctly and could check his income against a detailed payslip.

    Next year, employers must issue itemised payslips and provide written key employment terms, to prevent salary disputes, MOM said.

    One construction worker, who claimed that he had not been paid for four months, was afraid to voice his concerns because he did not want to offend his boss. He said: “What if he sends me back with no money?”

    The 38-year-old Bangladeshi national, who declined to give his name, approached MOM earlier this year only because he could not explain to his wife and two children why he was not sending money back home to them.

    “I give boss many chances already, until I cannot take it. I also need to eat.”

    MOM reminds employers that they have a legal responsibility and moral obligation to ensure that workers’ salaries are paid on time.

    A spokesman advised workers with salary claims to seek help early.

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    This article was first published on June 14, 2015.