Source: Straits Times File

Employers of migrant workers should offer assistance in remitting salaries to overseas bank accounts during the “circuit breaker” period if the workers require such help, said the Ministry of Manpower on Thu (16 Apr).
In its latest advisory for employers, MOM said that while some migrant workers may send their salaries abroad through mobile remittance agents at certain dormitories or online remittance services, there are also migrant workers who do not have access to such means.
“We strongly advise employers to check with their foreign workers on whether they need help to remit their salaries, either in part or in full, to an overseas bank account of their choice, and if so, to offer them the option of assisting to do the remittance on their behalf,” said the Ministry.
Employers in the process of creating the workers’ bank accounts — and thus have to make salary payments by cash for the current payment cycle — may also consider the above option in lieu of physically visiting their workers living in dormitories, in line with safe distancing measures during the COVID-19 outbreak.
MOM also encouraged employers to deposit their migrant workers’ salaries directly into the workers’ bank accounts via electronic means for subsequent payment cycles.
Employers wishing to remit salaries overseas on behalf of their migrant workers, said MOM, must obtain the said workers’ written consent, such as via text messages or email.
Migrant workers’ written requests for the above must include the following details:

  • Worker’s full name, FIN, date of birth, nationality and address;
  • Worker’s specified amount of his/her salary to be remitted overseas;
  • Worker’s specified name and bank account details of intended recipient; and
  • Worker’s specified date or time period for the remittance transaction to take place.

MOM said that employers may utilise “any remittance service provider, as long as it is mutually agreed between the employer and the foreign worker”.
“Employers may refer remittance service providers to MAS Circular Nos: MAS/PD/2020/07, AMLD 02/2020 (issued via MASNET on 16 April 2020) for the required customer due diligence measures for such remittances during this period,” MOM added.
Employers are also required to keep records of their migrant workers’ remittances requests, said MOM.
Employers, MOM added, are responsible for verifying any information collected from the migrant workers against their own records prior to processing the remittance request.
This is to ensure that the information provided is true and accurate, the Ministry said.
However, MOM noted that both employers and workers “shall be responsible for any loss of monies as a result of error on their part” in order to “avoid unnecessary downstream disputes between the employers and their foreign workers”.
Employers should immediately inform their foreign workers of each successful remittance transaction in writing, such as via text messages or email, along with proof of the remittance transaction, such as the photograph of the transaction receipt.
MOM highlighted that employers should clarify to their migrant workers that such an arrangement, if carried out, is temporary, and “will cease when the Circuit Breaker period ends”.

TWC2: MOM advisory on slashing migrant workers’ wages by 25 per cent “indefensible”; Govt should include migrant workers in Jobs Support Scheme

The Ministry’s previous advisory for employers during the circuit breaker drew flak from migrant labour’s rights non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), which criticised the suggestion to slash the salaries of migrant workers, who are “already earning ridiculously low wages”.
Branding the suggestion “indefensible” and “extraordinarily regressive”, TWC2 in a statement on Mon (13 Apr)
highlighted that the advisory runs contrary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s assurance that the Government has “worked with employers to make sure they’ll be paid their salaries and can remit money home”.
The MOM advisory, specifically issued for the circuit breaker period until 4 May, on the other hand, contains the suggestion that employers may “institute a 25% pay cut for foreign employees” if they wish to do so, according to TWC2.
Paragraph 18.2.2 reads as follows:

18.2.2 Employers must treat their foreign employees fairly and responsibly taking into consideration the levy waiver and rebate provided by the Government. For example, for a low-wage work permit holder who is staying at a purpose built dormitory and drawing a basic pay of $600 per month, a responsible employer can pay the foreign employee $450 as salary and also for his food and accommodation during Circuit Breaker. However, the foreign employee would forego his work-related allowances, such as his transport and shift allowances of $400 per month.

Further, said TWC2, MOM’s use of “reduction in the salaries” in Paragraph 21 affirms the intention of Paragraph 18.2.2, as seen below:

21. Employers that implement cost-saving measures during the Circuit Breaker between 7 April and 4 May 2020 (inclusive) must notify MOM if the cost-saving measures result in more than 25% reduction in the salaries of their employees and the employer has at least 10 employees.

While the advisory mentions “mutually agreed salary and leave arrangements”, TWC2 stressed that “the poor bargaining power of foreign workers”–due to a lack of freedom in changing jobs and employers as a result of having work passes linked to specified employers–meant that any so-called mutual agreement obtained from these workers “must be suspect”.
“Without the right to alternative employment, they do not have the free will necessary to give meaning to “mutual agreement”.
“In such a context, MOM’s words simply allow employers to drive coach and horses through existing terms of employment,” said TWC2.
“There is serious dissonance between what the PM said and what MOM is saying,” said TWC2.
“[A]nd yet MOM suggests a further reduction,” the organisation added.
The advisory, added TWC2, is also couched in “confusing” language.
“It will be rare that any foreign worker can make any sense of it. Even employers will find it very difficult to parse. The result will be employers interpreting it in ways that suit them best and riding roughshod over the nuances of the Advisory regarding their other obligations.
“If the intention of MOM is that employers should pay, then MOM should issue an explicit directive, otherwise it will be widely ignored and employers may make salary deductions to cover the cost of food and accommodation,” said the organisation.
TWC2 said that while MOM’s move to allow a foreign worker levy waiver is a good one, the Government should — instead of suggesting that employers cut their workers’ salaries — support employers’ costs by extending the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) to cover low-wage migrant workers.
The JSS, currently limited to resident workers, enables employers to receive up to 75 per cent wage subsidies per worker across all sectors, subject to a salary cap.
“If we extended EJSS to Work Permit holders, our estimate of extra cost to the treasury, based on the assumption that $600 a month would be the typical salary, would be 1 million work permit holders x average $600 a month salary x 75% = $400 million.
“Adding $400 million to the enhanced JSS bill for April (now about $5.1 billion) is just an increase of 8%,” said TWC2.
“Perhaps MOM wants to make it easier for bosses to keep employees on their payroll instead of cancelling work permits.
“If so, a simple directive that no work permit can be cancelled during a Circuit Breaker period should suffice. Making it so complicated and so open to abuse, as this Advisory does, is bad policy,” said TWC2.

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