Issues regarding Work Permit holders’ salary reduction by employers will be tabled in next Parliamentary sitting, says PAP MP

In response to a letter that was allegedly addressed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to a Work Permit (WP) holder regarding the worker’s salary reduction by his employer, Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Louis Ng has announced to the public via his official Facebook page that he intends to address several points regarding the issue in the next Parliamentary sitting.

In his post, Ng questioned the legality of the employer’s reduction of the WP holder’s salary, pointing out several issues. 

Among the issues raised by Ng is whether or not the employers have given due notification regarding the salary reduction to MOM in black-and-white, and whether employers who did not abide by this requirement have been fined by MOM for failing to do so. 

Ng also raised a query in regards to the number of employers who have been fined for failing to inform the MOM regarding the salary reduction.

Another issue that was pinpointed by Ng in his post is whether a salary reduction is even fair and appropriate in cases such as the one concerning the WP holder in the letter from MOM.

It is believed that the WP holder in question is 36-year-old Rahman Safiar, a Bangladeshi construction worker, as described in a report by freelance reporter and activist, Kirsten Han for Esquire Singapore titled "Migrant workers: The truth and stories behind human trafficking in Singapore”, dated 22 May. 

Safiar had allegedly paid a former colleague S$5,000 to ease the process of his recruitment as a rigger signalman with a construction company in Singapore.

He even went to the extent of borrowing money from a bank and leasing his family’s land to raise the amount required of him. 

He was promised a monthly salary of S$1,600 in exchange for the “fee” he paid his then-colleague as stated on an in-principle approval (IPA) that he was shown.

However, Safiar found that there were changes in the purported terms of “agreement”, upon his arrival in Singapore. 

When he went to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to complete the paperwork for his Work Permit (WP), he was given a letter stating that his employer had “informed MOM that your basic monthly salary has been reduced from S$1,600 to S$452.”

The letter went on to say that the employer is required to obtain Safiar’s written consent to this change. 

In the event that Safiar objects to the reduction, then the original salary rate would still be in place. 

Safiar, however, said that there were no re-negotiations regarding the matter. 

He also claimed to have not received a contract throughout his time in Singapore.

Safiar’s case draws striking parallels to that of the one in the letter that has been shared by MP Ng on Facebook. 

When he started work, he was assigned to work in rebar, which involved "laying down the steel bars used to reinforce concrete in building work", instead of the role of a rigged signalman that he was originally offered.

He was only paid S$116 for seven days of work that he had completed in December last year, "out of which his employer took S$50 to reclaim the money he had loaned Safiar" for transport to and fro between work. 

In January, the employer told Safiar that he would be paid at the lower monthly salary rate of S$452. 

When Safiar disagreed and asked to be paid the salary he’d been promised, he was told that his payment will be stalled.

Consequently, he received no salary in January and February, which led him to file a complaint with MOM.

Safiar’s case does not seem to be an isolated one, according to Esquire Singapore.

Malo Sree Lalchan Chandra, who paid an unlicensed agent S$7,600 to enable the former to work in Singapore as an air-conditioning technician in a suburban mall, received a total salary of S$814 excluding a loan of S$300 between the period of 29 December and 12 March, instead of the monthly sum of S$2720 that he had been promised.

However, Chandra seems to have a more fortunate outcome compared to Safiar’s ongoing case.

Following mediation with MOM, Chandra settled for a payment of S$5,500 from his employer, according to Esquire Singapore.

Stephanie Chok, casework manager and head of research at HOME said that referring such cases to the authorities might result in greater inconvenience for WP holders, as they are required to remain in Singapore while investigations are ongoing.

This could result in a long period of unemployment for them should they be prevented from seeking other forms of employment, and will leave them with no means to remit any currency back home. 

“If they have a salary claim, there may not be an advantage of being considered a trafficking victim,” Chok explained. 

“If they want to go home as soon as possible, it might be better to file a salary claim [with MOM] and then go home [sooner].”

Other measures to combat the exploitation of migrant workers include the launch of a mandatory Settling-in Programme (SIP) for new WP holders by MOM in the second half of 2018.

The one-day course, which will be conducted in the workers’ native languages, is designed to arm the workers with crucial information regarding their rights and responsibilities, according to Esquire Singapore.

Netizens are appalled and outraged by the predicament faced by the worker in question.

Local social worker and activist, Jolovan Wham has shared the matter on his Facebook profile, and encouraged people to share the news about the WP’s case in a bid to assist the worker:

Lily Pang is astonished by the amount of reduction:

Wow, that's a reduction of 71.75%

Tushar Saifuddin asked:

Why there is no minimum wage for immigrants workers in Singapore?

secyla said:

This is why we need minimum wage across the board so such things won't happen... And employers who pay lower have to be arrested…

Sumita Thiagarajan queried:

Are these salary reductions done right after employment? Are the workers promised a higher salary before employment but this amount is reduced quickly after employment?

Susan Tan echoed Ng’s opinion:

There must be a law that prohibits and prevents employers from lowering the workers’ salary after salary has been stated and agreed in the in-principle letter. Too many dishonest and wicked employers are doing this. What is [the Ministry of Manpower] MOM doing about this??? Our laws must serve to protect our migrant workers like any other employees in Singapore. Something is very wrong with our laws if these salary exploitation by dishonest employers keep on happening! Minister of Manpower must do something about this. Too many migrant worker exploitations keep on happening.

She said in a separate comment:

I cannot understand why strict laws cannot be implemented to stop and prevent exploitative and wicked employers from daylight robbing and cheating migrant workers. Migrant workers must have their rights protected like any other employees in Singapore protection of salaries, accident insurance coverage and medical benefits like any other employee in Singapore. 

But sadly, our migrant workers don’t receive all these. What happened to our ‘first world’ nation???? 😡

Laurence Rappa queried Ng on the legality of the matter:

[…] Is the Ministry [of Manpower] allowed to [legalise] such practices?

Lulu Ong said:

This is yet another case of people who don't walk the grounds thinking, "But we've come up with a procedure for them and they can choose to not give their consent." How much sway does this piece of paper and this process hold in reality? To our scholarly policy makers, you can't sit in your air-con rooms all day thinking you can solve problems such simplistic terms. Get out there, talk to the workers, talk to the employers. They can help give ideas on how to improve the process. As it stands now, it's just too easy to abuse.

Gabriel Tham commented:

[If] worker[s] don’t consent [tp the salary reduction], then most likely [they will] get fired lor. In Singapore, the employer is king.

庭亮李 said: 

Don't forget these workers from the Third World [are] still coming to Singapore because of favourable Singapore dollars. 

Lye RongFang said it would be helpful to determine the statistics of such cases to see if the problem is prevalent enough or if it is just an isolated case:

It's a good idea to have the number of case to understand the extent of the problem but if the worker is left without a choice. It doesn't improve their lot.

Susan Henkel Smith suggested:

Might be interesting to call out the employer. Sounds like a bad business to get involved with.

Eugene Khaw chided Ng for his statement:

It’s no longer a question of whether “is it fair?”... It should be a question of “Should it even be legal?” or “Is it even human?” for your party (People's Action Party) or Parliamentary colleagues to allow such things to happen on their watch…

David Lee commented:

Ridiculous and unlawful. Full investigation is required.

Marissa Chen pointed out the blatant economic disparity in the society and urged for solutions to be implemented:

It’s 2018 and this country has one of the world’s highest number of millionaires per capita. Minimum wage laws and a national poverty line are in order.

Henry Chang thinks the matter of potentially unlawful and unethical salary reductions of migrant workers is the responsibility of MOM to tackle:

It's slave labour, no less. MOM cannot just absolve itself by throwing the matter back to the employee to resolve.

Lucy Tan suggested that the salary "reduction" is really labour exploitation in disguise:

Mr Louis Ng, it’s not [a] reduction. It’s decimation. Unless the employer has a legitimate reason for the proposal, I think it’s time to shame and name the company. 😤

However, a few local netizens have also questioned the authenticity of the WP's case, suggesting that the public might not have a complete picture of the entire issue:

Chandramathi Klic argued:

There must be a reason for the employer to reduce his pay. Why don't you check with the employer personally before you go further [with your case with the MOM].

Clement Low queried:

Why has the salary been reduced? Change in job scope? Change in working hours? No rhyme or reason? Let's see the whole picture.

Lynette Enoch said that the issue is not exclusive to migrant workers in Singapore, but even affects Singapore citizens working in Singapore:

This is also done to Singaporeans, has been going on for some time, but only now the government noticed? 

Tan Li Leng questioned the authenticity of the letter itself:

Please, this letter is obviously fake!!!

Check out the English. And a letter from MOM will not come to you with [...] no signature.