Although Singapore is known as an efficient, developed country, for many migrant workers from South Asia it is a huge struggle to be paid.
Sardar Md Insan Ali, who comes from Bangladesh, is one such worker. He was promised he would be paid S$1,600 (US$1,173) a month, but upon arrival in Singapore he discovered his wage would be only S$18 ($13) per day. On top of that, his employer did not pay him in full for eight months.
Tamera Fillinger from the NGO TWC2 says this is a common tactic used by employers. “What we see over and over again is that the guys will put up with the employer’s assurances, for some number of months, that they will be paid the full amount,” she said.
Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower said it had received 9,000 salary-related claims involving about 4,500 employers in 2016. These figures include both local and migrant workers.
According to a response to a parliamentary question by Lim Swee Say, Singapore’s Minister for Manpower, 95% of those cases were resolved either through mediation or in the Labor Court. He added that 158 employers had been prosecuted and convicted over the last three years for not paying wages.
However, Jevon Ng, a social work executive at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), said that number is low, because the ministry favors “a conciliatory approach over a punitive one in resolving salary claims” to maintain its business-friendly reputation.
In Sardar Md Insan Ali’s case, his employer cancelled his work permit after he filed a complaint with the ministry. Yet the Ministry of Manpower says he is allowed to stay in the country while his case is pending. This puts him in a complicated situation: he can stay in Singapore, but cannot work.
“The not being able to work is just draconian, because how are the guys supposed to remain in country to follow up on the claim process if they have to pay for their food and lodging, and they’re not making any money because they can’t work? The employer is supposed to pay throughout this process, but many don’t,” says Fillinger.