By Andrew Loh
The Government’s decision to not require businesses to issue payslips to their employees is “prompted by strong objections from small businesses”, the Straits Times reported on 13 November.
Acting Manpower Minister, Tan Chuan Jin, had given this explanation in Parliament on Tuesday.
Apparently, the main reason for the “strong objections” was that such a requirement would add to the administrative costs of these businesses, particularly the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
These were concerns which “the ministry understands”, Mr Tan said.
Nonetheless, he said requiring businesses to issue payslips was “a direction we want to go.”
“Not everything ought to be legislated at once as ultimately, we aim to change behaviour in a sustainable way,” he added.
Despite labour MP Zainal Sapari’s call for a timeframe to make it compulsory to issue payslips, Mr Tan declined to offer one. Without such legislation, Mr Sapari said, irresponsible employers can “cover their tracks” when they underpay or flout the law.
Mr Sapari also raised other employment concerns, to which Mr Tan replied that imposing too many conditions may affect the employability of workers.
“Then we end up hurting the very people that we are trying to protect,” he said.
It is hard to understand Minister Tan’s explanation.
For a start, why would issuing payslips to employees hurt employees?
Second, how much more “administrative costs” would be incurred by businesses, given that businesses issue receipts, invoices and such all the time as a matter of routine.
It is not surprising then that Mr Tan’s seemingly simplistic explanation has drawn criticism.
“If issuing a pay slip is costly, then your business deserves to close down,” Mr Jolovan Wham posted on his Facebook page. “This is clear evidence of how the Singapore government is ridiculously pro-business.”
Mr Wham, the former executive director of HOME, a migrant workers NGO, has been involved in providing aid to low-wage foreign workers and he has raised the issue of payslips several times over the years.
It is disturbing that the minister seemed to be implying that fear of increased business costs is sufficient grounds for the government not to legislate protection for workers, or not to inconvenience employers.
As one online commentator posted: “Funny how this logic is absent when it comes to increases in the foreign worker levy, from which the state earns over $2 billion a year.”
More importantly, issuing payslips protects both employees and employers from fraudulent claim later on, and can help in settling pay disputes.
On 12 November, the Straits Times reported that the “Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has over the past year helped more than 22,000 Singaporeans who were denied basic employment rights by errant employers.”
These included “bosses who failed to pay salaries on time, make Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions or offer overtime allowances.”
Mr Tan said his ministry “has taken action against” these errant employers – although “none has been prosecuted so far.”
The fact that the MOM has had to step in to help “22,000” Singaporean workers with salary or CPF matters because of errant employers perhaps tells us that the problem is not a limited one.
Mr Tan did not say if the problem is also as significant among the foreign workers segment of our workforce.
Would not a legislated requirement to issue payslips help resolve some of these problems earlier, and also act as a deterrent to errant employers – when they know that there would be black-and-white proof of non-payment of salaries?
Unfortunately, Mr Tan’s weak excuse in defence of employers and businesses adds to the problem – the very problems which MP Sapari had raised.
It allows unscrupulous employers to get away with abusing their employees.
Also, what if there are again “strong objections” from businesses to any future legislations which may add to the costs of businesses? Will the minister once again capitulate and withdraw, even though such legislations will protect Singaporean workers?
Perhaps Mr Tan should provide a more thorough explanation rather than offer vague statements and weak excuses which do not shed much light on the matter – or worse, which are nonsensical.
A commentator on The Online Citizen’s Facebook page said: “This is disappointing, no matter how insignificant it may be. You can put in place estate duties, impose maid levies, raise transportation fees and increase ERP in snaps of fingers, but you cannot put in place payslip.”
“A payslip is every worker’s right not a privilege,” said another poster.
It is basic. If businesses are unable to provide this to their employees, the Acting Minister for Manpower should not be making excuses for them – he should, instead, be questioning if they should be in business in the first place.