20 Jul 2004

150 Indian migrant workers again protested peacefully

17 July 2004 by Sinapan Samydorai


16 July 2004, more then 150 Indian migrant workers again protested peacefully to claim 4 to 6 months salaries owned by their employer. This is the second protest by workers from Wan Soon Construction to claim their salaries amounting to some $4000 to $6000.


28 June 2004 200 Indian Workers protest at Indian Embassy On 28 June 2004, the Indian migrant workers had also gathered to demand that the Indian Embassy assist them to claim the salary own to them.
Failed Negotiation

On 1st July 2004, the workers refused to accept the MOM negotiated $600 settlement that is only a fraction of what they are owed before they leave, plus a promise by the company to remit the rest later. According to the Ministry Of Manpower (MOM) terms of a deal negotiated with Wan Soon Constructionon on 25 May 2004 - the company was schedule to pay $600 to each workers. [Wan Soon's insurance company will pay $400, and the contractor's directors will pay $200 for each worker.] The negotiations failed because the MOM wanted to deal with each worker as an individual and try to break-up the group of Indian workers. Moreover, the workers are aware that the 118 who accepted the deal were given $400 and send home. The workers are requesting full payment of their salary.

The Labour Law

The foreign migrant workers from construction industry, unlike foreign domestic workers, are protected by the Employment Act. Yet Wan Soon construction company had managed not to pay the 400 workers for more then 4 months. How did this happen? Questions are being raised why the Ministry of Manpower had failed to notice this abuse for almost 4 months.

According to the labour law: "All salary, other than payment for overtime work, must be paid within 7 days after the end of the salary period. Salary for overtime work must be paid within 14 days after the end of the salary period." [Employment Act: Payment of Salary ]

Ministry of Manpower

What is worrying is that why MOM failed to intervene earlier to prevent such abuse from happening. The labour law says all workers must be paid at least once a month. Why did the supervisory mechanism fail? As employers are, frequently, sending back foreign workers with just few hundrend dollars when they owned each worker a few thousand dollars. Is this fair and just?

The Government collects from employers the foreign workers' levy as surety to make sure that the workers are paid which implies the authorities are responsible to ensure that workers are paid timely and regularly each month. Some employers, in fact, deduct the levy from the workers' salaries.

In June 2004, the MOM managed to send back home 118 workers with only $400. The 118 workers were part of the 400 workers who were owned 4 - 6 months salary by Wan Soon Construction. It leaves one to think that the MOM is in a rush to send the workers home instead of seeking a fair and just deal for the workers.

NTUC Migrant Workers Forum

In Singapore, there are more then 500,000 foreign workers with work permits. NTUC memberships is 425,000 of which about 17.5 per cent or 74,000 are foreign workers. But in the Shipbuilding sector, close to 70 per cent of the membership are foreign workers. In BATU, Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union, membership is 22,000, of which 20 per cent are migrant workers from Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar. BATU settles the disputes on a group basis thus if the workers are still working they need not worry about the employer penalizing them for blowing the whistle on the company. In 2003, the NTUC set-up the Migrant Workers Forum of which Mr.Yeo Guat Kwang, also MP of Aljunied GRC, is the Chairperson.

In the case of Wan Soon Construction workers, the NTUC Migrant Workers forum solved the immediate needs of the workers for food and accomodation. The Forum coordinated with NTUC Fairprice to contribute food for the Indian workers. The Forum in liaison with the MOM has also mediated with the employer to ensure the migrant workers will continue to stay at their dormitory until their claim is settled. But the Forums role is not clear when it comes to the mediation process of the MOM in trying to solve the dispute of non payment of salary of migrant workers. Surely, the attempt by MOM to send home the workers with $400 - $600 is not fair. How will the Forum ensure the migrant workers receive a fair and just settlement?

Indian Migrant Workers

The remaining more then 200 workers are claiming their salaries and had also requested to work with other employers in the same industry. The Workers who registered their claims with the MOM will be issued with with special passes to remain in Singapore while their claims are being settled.

Since the first protest, on 28 June 2004, the remaining Indian migrant workers were at least given 3 meals a day thanks to the support from NTUC Migrant Workers Forum and the negotiating skill of MOM. Concern individuals, a temple and civil society groups, are also offering food or small amounts of cash so that the workers could buy food. Otherwise, this migrant workers will be starving in these rich and wealthy nation.

Wan Soon Construction

Wan Soon Construction chairman Mr.Alan Koh said to the press that he is taking the Housing Board to arbitration to claim losses. The HDB decided to pull the plug on Wan Soon Constructions multi-million-dollar projects in April. The company is downgraded to accept only contracts worth $30 mllion. Wan Soon construction is also facing more then 70 suits claiming about $6 mllion.

Mr.Koh claimed in news reports that 'All these workers' problems would not have surfaced if not for the wrongful termination by HDB' That is the reason his workers have not been paid for about 4 to 6 months. He had also said the unpaid wages will be settled later this week. As a good employer he wisely voiced that 'Workers' salary should always be the most important priority of all our debts.' If that is the case one wonders why the salary was not paid for 4 to 6 months. Why then negotiate with MOM to send his workers home with just $400? It is fair and just to return to the workers all their salaries.

The ThinkCentre

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