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Letter in response to ‘Foreign worker salary disputes are dealt with speedily’

We refer to the letter “Foreign Worker Disputes are Dealt with Speedily” (TODAY, 24 Feb). We thank the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for their feedback and for responding to our report, Wage Theft and Exploitation among Low-wage Migrant Workers.

While the Ministry’s decision to allow some claimants to switch employers is a positive step, the reality is that the majority of workers are still not allowed to do so. This forces them to survive on borrowed money and NGO handouts which places them in a much weaker position to negotiate for the salaries they are due. MOM should broaden its criteria so these migrant workers are not left destitute while they pursue their claims. Workers already have difficulty finding new jobs due to the limited time given, as well as the lack of resources to help them look for jobs when they are in Singapore. MOM or the WDA should develop a portal to facilitate job searches for workers.

Some employers resort to scare tactics, such as engaging lawyers to send demand letters to workers, in the hopes that they will give up their claims. Even though the decision to participate in mediation is voluntary, imbalances of power often lead to outcomes where workers get less than what they are owed.

We are aware that our views and statistics are only based on the experiences of workers with employment problems. However, it is important to acknowledge that under reporting among migrant workers is significant as many of them don’t assert their rights for fear of losing their jobs and other forms of retaliation. The fear is intensified for those who have paid huge sums of money to recruiters. Many are also afraid of being blacklisted by MOM for creating “trouble”. Due to a lack of knowledge of the Employment Act, many workers are unaware that they are not paid according to statutory rates.

Labour exploitation, abuse and wage theft are complex problems that require a combination of legislation and education to be tackled effectively. HOME is committed to working closely with MOM, unions, employer groups and other NGOs to ensure justice for all migrant workers.