For the second time in two weeks, I have today emailed (acting) Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin. Foreign workers in Singapore deserve to be protected by our laws, and the unwillingness of the Ministry to enforce the law is troubling.
I wrote to you not long ago to express my concern regarding unlawful employment practices by one Shan Jian Xin Construction. Most troubling in that case was the apparent unwillingness of your Ministry to take steps in ensuring the enforcement of the Employment Act. Despite the above mentioned case reaching an ad-hoc settlement with some degree of satisfaction on both sides, the underlying problem remains. Unlawful employment practices are widespread in Singapore and the inability or unwillingness of your Ministry to enforce the Employment Act is troubling.
Today I write to you regarding the case of Straits Construction Pte Ltd. It has been widely reported in online media that Straits Construction is employing staff on contracts that are blatantly illegal within the terms of the Employment Act. Firstly, that company seeks to contract out of the requirement to pay employees a higher salary for work done on Sundays and public holidays. Secondly, that company seeks to contract out of the requirement to pay salaries within seven days of the end of the salary period. Both terms are apparently unlawful with reference to the Employment Act which your Ministry is empowered to uphold, yet it appears that your Ministry is unwilling or unable to act.
Parliament has specifically empowered you and your team with powers of investigation and enforcement. You should use those powers to show that unlawful practices will not be tolerated in Singapore, to show that Singapore is a rule of law nation, and to show those foreign workers upon whom we depend to build our homes and infrastructure, that they enjoy the protections of our legal system. Anything less than this is a failure, and faces bringing Singapore into disrepute. Qatar has recently been the subject of international condemnation for the exploitative treatment of foreign workers – yet from non-payment of wages, squalid living conditions to confiscation of identification documents, many of the problems reported there are apparently widespread in Singapore. The major substantial difference between Qatar and Singapore appears to be that international attention is focussed on Qatar as it prepares to host the 2022 football World Cup, but this is not a fact that your Ministry should rely on in neglecting to enforce the Employment Act. One day the attention of the international media may fall on Singapore, and your Ministry’s failure to uphold the law will reflect badly not just on yourself, but on the nation as a whole.
Most importantly though, you should ensure the protection of migrant workers from exploitative and unlawful employment practices because it is the only dignified way to treat our fellow human beings, who want nothing more than an opportunity to work hard and earn an honest salary for themselves and their families.
For the purposes of advocacy, I will be releasing this letter to the online media.