Singapore has never enjoyed a strong reputation on justice or the rule of law. As long ago as 1990 the New York Bar Association wrote of “a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests”. A look back on some of the biggest cases (and non-cases) of the year reveals little to suggest that the historically subservient relationship between the courts and the government has changed for the better. The (ab)use of legal proceedings to silence critics remains an ever-present, but this year has also seen troubling developments with the government at times appearing to be beyond the law. Is this “a year in justice” or “a year of injustice”? You decide.
Tag Archives: Tan Chuan-Jin
Does Tan Chuan-Jin betray a sense of entitlement in framing the fact that someone may choose not to vote for him as a threat?
In Merriam-Webster, a threat is defined as “an expression of intention to inflict evil, injury or damage”. Other definitions exist, but they are usually quite negative and tend to imply harm. I’ve never heard of someone threatening to do me a favour.
So why does the (acting) Minister for Manpower make it all so dramatic? Does he see the default position as being that everyone should vote for him, and any suggestion that one may not, is an implication of impending “injury or damage”? I’m afraid Mr Tan’s years in the Army may have conditioned him to expect everyone around (or beneath?) him to do as he wishes. This may be a valid approach when encouraging young conscripts to run up a hill, but it is the antithesis of representative democracy. As an MP Mr Tan should have realised by now that the tables have turned. His job – more or less – is to represent the wishes of his residents in parliament, and he should further realise that a vote has to be earned, it is not an entitlement.
As readers may know, I have e-mailed the minister myself once or twice recently. Of course, I received no reply, but I did not take this personally, I just assumed he is either lazy or rude. While the polite thing to do might be to at least send out a stock response or a simple acknowledgement – probably delegated to a secretary or assistant – this apparently is a level of engagement still beyond the ruling party.
There are many valid reasons why one would choose not vote for the PAP. I for one will not be doing so, in no small part due to the mess that is our labour market under the negligent oversight of Mr Tan’s MOM. But this is my right, and in saying so, I am exercising my own free will, not issuing a threat. Rather than fretting over the fact that someone may choose not vote for him, Mr Tan should knuckle-down, do the best job he can, and hope that it is enough to win the trust of his residents in 2016.
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.
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.