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Lax enforcement and inadequate employment policies hurt the worker. By Gilbert Goh.

Time to protect the worker

The following is a letter by Gilbert Goh which was sent to the Straits Times.

I refer to the recent news about errant employers who cheated on their foreign workers and many others who provide a raw deal to our local workers. I am glad that Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has decided to prosecute the guilty parties involved in the foreign workers' saga.

It is common knowledge that our Employment Act is bias towards the employers. Workers always get the worse end of the stick whereas employers somehow can escape unpunished when they flout the law.

Our salary also lags behind the standard of living that we so proudly claim due to the lack of a minimum wage. A secretary can earn $1000 in a small local company and another can command $2,500 in another big multi national company. The salary gap for a similar profession can be so large that it becomes a mockery.

In countries like Australia, where there is a minimum wage labour law, many workers find that they are adequately compensated for their experience and qualification. They also have enough protection from errant employers. Anyone caught underpaying a staff can be prosecuted under the law. Employees do not have to indicate their age, race or include photos of themselves  when they send in their resumes. This is to prevent discrimination from the employers.

To highlight my point, I was paid a basic salary of $2,500 ten years ago and this salary has not changed much till today. Employers seem to only pay a certain salary as and when they feel like it. There are no basic guidelines to paying wages base on qualification or experience.  They can quote you a ridiculous salary in the hope that you will take the job in desperation, especially when the economy turns bad.

Employers dictate the terms of the contract and workers have hardly any bargaining power when it comes to any unfair terms within the contract.

I remember, when I was working for a local company, I raised a certain term in the contract that seemed unreasonable. I was told to either sign it or they will look for another worker who can accept their terms. I did not have many options and signed  the contract or else I would have faced a longer period of unemployment. I also felt frustrated that I had nowhere to turn to for proper counselling and guidance if I felt that my employment rights are violated.

There sre no proper guides to employment terms and conditions right now. The Employment Act seems to carry little weight especially when it concerns the welfare of workers.

I am frankly not surprised that employers exploited the loopholes in the  employment of foreign workers here for illegal kickbacks. There are hardly any stringent guidelines for the employment of foreign workers and as there is no known case of any employer being  prosecuted  for malpractices so far, many  simply take advantage of the lax system to make hay while the sun shines. My heart  goes out to the hundreds of foreign workers who were exploited fully because of our failure to punish those who are guilty.

Our local workers also will benefit from MOM's intervention to tighten up the Employment Act. Pro-business employment policies, if taken to the extreme, will not help our economy  much. Workers will find that they are being exploited andwill not put in their best at work. Professionals will also jump ship when they find that others are paying them better. It is no wonder that I find many friends job-hopping for the few hundreds dollars more in salary as they compare benefits with their friends. Loyalty within a company seems a long gone consideration for many workers now.

As the recession rears its ugly head this year, let us take this chance to improve our employment policies. Workers need to be adequately compensated and their needs taken care of so that they can stay long in a company. With a high turnover, a company wastes precious time and effort to rehire and retrain a worker.

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