Migrant workers who face issues with their employers, seeking help from NGO, TWC2 and getting free food. (Photo - Terry Xu)

NGO for migrant workers shares how employers of foreign workers refuse to comply with court orders to pay up workers

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving conditions for low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, wrote into Straits Times forum, claiming that employers of migrant workers ignore court orders sent to them to pay up salaries that they owe their workers.

Ethan Guo, the General Manager of TWC said that the NGO is unaware of the consequences that an employer will face when they refuse to comply with court orders.

“Migrant workers who have not been paid their salaries or are underpaid are referred to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) when attempts at mediation fail. When the cases conclude in the workers’ favour, many employers do not pay up despite orders by the ECT to do so,” he wrote.

He added, “They workers are appalled that there is so little regard for court orders and no viable method of enforcement. We understand that these debts are viewed as a civil, not criminal, matter.”

Although there are a few ways for debt recovery like writ of seizure, bankruptcy proceedings and sale, but these options are not feasible for migrant workers as they’re costly and time-consuming, Mr Guo said.

In fact, a pro bono lawyer that TWC2 consulted stated that the main problem here is that “enforcement mechanisms do not come with any assurance that one will get any money at the end of the process.”

Citing a recent case that the organisation encountered, Mr Guo explained that the particular employer revealed that he “had no intention of complying with tribunal’s order” although the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority noted that his company is still operating.

If that’s not bad enough, another employer did not even bother to be at the ECT and became unreachable, the General Manager said.

As such, Mr Guo said that the “Ministry of Manpower’s assistance to workers facing such circumstances does little to mitigate their plight.”

He explained that migrant workers don’t receive their salary when errant employers are prosecuted. Moreover, insurance or ex-gratia payouts do not even come half to the owed amounts, and these workers are also not guaranteed a new employment.

As such, the General Manager said that it is “alarming injustice” for foreign workers to be denied their salaries even after winning their case at the ECT.

Refuting such claims, MOM said in a statement made in May this year that it “takes strong enforcement actions against willful employers who do not pay their workers’ salaries.” The Ministry pointed out that between 2016 and 2018, a total of 151 employers were prosecuted for offences under the Employment Act.

But, it noted that “MOM does not intend to criminalise all such cases, especially in cases where employers cannot pay owning to business failures.”