I today sent the below mail to (acting) Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin. Foreign workers in Singapore deserve to be protected by our laws, and Ministers or others empowered to enforce that protection should ensure that they do so.
Singaporeans depend on foreign workers to build our homes, roads, hospitals and more. This dependency can only be satisfied as long as foreign workers are happy to come here, and have trust that the regulatory and legal system here will effectively protect them from exploitation and other unlawful practices. The recently reported case of construction workers suffering unlawful deductions from salary by their employer – Shan Jian Xin Construction – is thus very concerning. While your Ministry has numerous powers to intervene to protect the rights of foreign workers, it appears to be negligent in declining to do so.
It has been widely reported that construction workers from the above mentioned company suffered deductions of $1,265 from their monthly earnings of $1,341.56. Their net pay was thus a mere $76.56 for 287 hours work. While it is true that some deductions in limited circumstances are permitted in law, many of the deductions in this case are clearly unlawful and punitive. To be specific, the employee’s itemized payslip lists a deduction of $150.00 for “safety training” (translated from Chinese). The Employment Act at Section 27(1) paras (a) through (k) gives a list of deductions that are permitted in law, and safety training is not one of them. Furthermore, deductions which it has been reported were seen as punitive by an agent of your Ministry, and which were apparently designed to discourage other employees from exercising their statutory rights are clearly also unlawful.
The facts are clear. There are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence under the Employment Act has been committed.
The time has thus now come for your Ministry to show our foreign workers that they enjoy the protection of Singapore’s laws. Section 124 of the Employment Act specifically empowers “the Minister” – yourself – to investigate. Similarly, that Section also empowers any of your Parliamentary Secretary, the Permanent Secretary to your Ministry, “the Commissioner” or any “inspecting officer” to investigate. Please either see to it that an investigation takes place, or explain why, in the circumstances, you think doing nothing is the better course of action.
One only needs to recall the case of the SMRT bus drivers’ strike to be reminded how a private employment issue can quickly lead to public inconvenience and international embarrassment. Singaporeans are not likely to be forgiving if house building programmes or the opening of new MRT lines are delayed by labour disputes. Please take responsibility, ensure that your Ministry is not negligent in protecting the legal rights of foreign workers, and act accordingly.
For the purposes of advocacy, I will be releasing this letter to the online media.