Are Foreign Workers Getting a Fair Shake with MOM disputes?

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In recent article for the Straits Times, Then Yee Thoong of the Ministry of Manpower took an opportunity to respond to an open letter titled “Salary non-payment a big issue for migrant workers” from the political activist Alex Au.

The letter by Mr. Au speaks on problems that some migrant workers may have with receiving full pay and accurate pay reporting from their Singaporean employers. In the letter, he bases his argument on statistics and data from a recent study done by the migrant worker welfare group TWC2. With this information, Au paints a picture that these are common problems amongst the migrant worker community and that the Ministry of Manpower is doing little to assist the workers in their disputes, saying, “In nearly all instances we encounter, workers tell TWC2 that MOM makes little effort to obtain full settlement. Workers feel pressured to accept a fraction of what they are owed.”

With these and other claims being made, the Ministry of Manpower decided that it was in their best interest to respond. In his response to the letter, Then Yee Thoong contested many of the claims and stated that their research has shown that most foreign workers are satisfied and that only a small fraction has trouble with their salaries.

He then went on to criticize Au for not getting both sides of the story and only listening to the workers. The Divisional Director of MOM said, “In adjudicating a salary claim, MOM listens to both sides in the dispute. Should an employer be found to be errant, we will take tough action, such as debarment from employing foreign workers. Where the offence is particularly egregious, they may also be prosecuted.”

The Ministry of Manpower does help foreign workers to resolve pay disputes and it does encourage them to come forward when there is an issue between them and their employer. However, many workers may still feel as though they are not being represented fairly in disputes between them and the employer. While MOM does have data to back their claim, it is hard to ignore studies like the one from TWC2.