Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Link to Migrant Workers Singapore

For a more comprehensive collection of articles on migrant workers in Singapore (including the ones found on this blog), please click on Migrant Workers Singapore

THE URL: http://migrantworkerssingapore.blogspot.com/

Sunday, January 4, 2009

China Construction Workers Still at MOM on 2 Jan 09

The following article appeared in the New Paper on 2 Jan 2009.

Firm's 'new wage structure' halves their pay
Tan May Ping and Shree Ann Mathavan
2 January 2009
The New Paper

JUST a day after they turned out in full force at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), hordes of China workers were there again yesterday.

The workers claimed that their complaints about their salaries being drastically reduced had yet to be settled with their employers.

Their other bone of contention was that their employers were taking too long to pay their outstanding wages from September onwards.

More than 100 workers from Zhonghe Huaxing Development and China Nuclear Industry Huaxing Construction Co showed up yesterday and crowded the main entrance of the MOM building at Havelock Road.

Security personnel and the police gotthem to move to the side, away from theentrance.

About 200 workers had gone to the MOM on Tuesday to complain that they had not been paid for four months.

They had also objected to the many 'unfair' deductions from their salaries.

The ministry said on Tuesday that with its intervention, the issues were amicably resolved.

The employers, it said, had banked the September salaries into the workers' accounts that day and had also undertaken to pay all salary arrears by Chinese New Year.

It added that the employers had also undertaken to pay basic salaries on time going forward, and that the parties had reached an understanding on other differences.

But the workers were still unhappy yesterday.

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, they said their average monthly salary had been reduced from $1,300 to just $700 plus a variable component that depends on their volume of work.

One construction worker in his 30s claimed they were informed of this only on Monday, when they found posters detailing the change in wage structure posted up in their various accommodations.

He said: 'We were promised before coming (to Singapore) that our pay would be $1,300, now it's completely changed.

'What do they mean by this? We should be paid our entire salary.'

He also said that as the company did not divulge how this variable component is calculated, they would be at the mercy of the company.

Like many of his colleagues, this worker who came to Singapore to work in July last year claimed to have been paid only a fraction of the wages due to him.

'$6,000 still owed'

In the six months he has been here, he claimed he has been paid only $1,000 so far.

Some $6,000 in wages are still owed to him, he claimed.

Workers we spoke to also added that the company's schedule of paying them their overdue wages was taking too long.

A construction worker in his 40s told The New Paper: 'All of us have wives, kids, ageing parents to support and many have borrowed from loan sharks to come here.

'How can they take so long? We are anxious, especially since we want to send money in time for Chinese New Year.'

This worker said that they were informed in a meeting with their employers on Tuesday that the monthly wage deduction of $550 would be discontinued.

This deduction was supposed to be returned to them in a lump sum upon completion of their two-year contract.

However, the $150 deduction for water and electricity would remain.

That is something the workers continue to be unhappy about.

Said the worker: 'We already earn so little and yet they want to deduct this and that.'

The workers hoped that by turning up once again at the doorsteps of MOM, the wage dispute could be settled once and for all.

He said: 'We are hoping for a resolution, so this is the only thing we can do.

'If we go to work or just sleep, the problem won't be settled.'

When contacted, a spokesman for the company said the workers had 'wrongly perceived' that the company's wage structure had changed.

He said the variable component of the wage structure has always been there and is necessary because it takes into account the volume of work that workers do.

'That's our right as an employer. It's not a pay cut, it depends on the work they do.'

He said: 'If workers don't work and keep going to MOM, why should we pay them?'

However, when asked about why the posters clarifying the wage structure were put up, he declined to comment further.

But he noted that the salaries stated by the workers were not listed in the companies' contracts.

He said: 'That is the agents' promise, not ours.'

An MOM spokesman said that some of the workers returned to the ministry to raise additional issues, and it is looking into the matter.

The rest of the workers returned to work yesterday, she added.

Friday, January 2, 2009

'China Workers Seek MOM'S Help for the Third Time'

The following article appeared in TODAY, Friday January 2, 2009, p.8


It may have been a public holiday, but with not much else to do on New Year's Day, a group of about 100 construction workers from China turned up at the Ministry of Manpower for the third consecutive day to express their unhappiness about their situation.

The workers from Zhonghe Huaxing Development and China Nuclear Industry Huaxing Construction first turned up on Tuesday to complain about unauthorised salary "deductions" and wages owed to them. Although the Ministry intervened, and their employer agreed to bank in September's wages, the workers are apparently not willing to wait until the Chinese New Year for the rest of their salary arrears to be paid.

Meanwhile, with more migrant workers coming forward to say they have lost their jobs and months of salaries, the non-profit Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics has set up a special fund to help those who could end up going home penniless, or worse, in debt after coming to Singapore.

With its Institute of Public Character status restored, all donations to its Peace and Justice Fund 2009 will be tax deductible.

For more information, visit www.home.org.sg or email vip@home.org.sg

Thursday, January 1, 2009

'Employers swayed, workers get paid'

SUMMARY: 200 China national workers showed up at the Ministry of Manpower on Tuesday, 30 Dec 2008, to complain about unauthorized salary deductions and wages owed to them. The workers are employed by Zhonghe Huaxing Development and China Nuclear Industry Huaxing Construction. The articles below, The New Paper and TODAY, provide more details. The articles also highlight the increase in such incidents for foreign workers (both China as well as Bangladeshi nationals) from other companies.

Employers swayed, workers get paid

Construction company said a change of staff led to the delay in wage payments

By Tan May Ping and Shree Ann Mathavan

January 01, 2009

FOR 200 Chinese foreign workers, their show of solidarity at the Manpower Ministry (MOM) seemed to have swayed their employer.

They complained that they had not been paid for four months.

Late last night, in response to the workers' pay claims, a spokesman for Zhonghe Huaxing Development, a construction company, said it had credited its workers' salaries for September into their bank accounts yesterday afternoon.

He added that the salaries for October would be paid within a week and wages for November would be paid before Chinese New Year.

The spokesman explained that a change of staff had led to the delay in wage payments.

He said in Mandarin: 'We are working with MOM and our workers to change the way salaries are paid.

'Workers will receive their salary every month as per the Employment Act in Singapore.'

However, he cautioned: 'Workers going on strike as they did today is illegal. This is a regular salary dispute.'

Workers had also objected to the many 'unfair' deductions in workers' salaries. With regard to this, he said 'some changes' would be made as well.

The workers had gathered at the MOM building around 8am yesterday. Their huge numbers, they hoped, would press home their grievances.

Speaking to The New Paper on condition of anonymity, the workers said they were promised monthly salaries of $1,200 to $1,300.

This, they said, was stated in the contracts which they had signed with agents in China before coming to Singapore.

Each of them paid 30,000 yuan ($6,300) to the agents and they worked at various construction sites, including the integrated resort at Marina Bay and a school in Boon Keng.

But things were different once they started work.

One worker in his 40s from Jiangsu province said he was not paid for four out of the five months since he arrived in Singapore in August.

Another worker - also from Jiangsu province - who is in his 30s, said he was not paid for the first three months.

He and others were paid their first month's wages in the fourth month.

They were supposed to have been paid their second month's wages in the fifth month. The remaining back pay was to follow the same pattern.

The worker said he had been paid only a total of $1,100 in the six months he had worked.

The figure was so low because of numerous deductions from his salary.

A total of $700 - more than 50 per cent of his pay - was deducted.

These included $150 for water and electricity bills at the various places he was housed, and a deduction of $550, to be returned on completion of the two-year contract.

Another worker in his 30s, who also arrived in August, said: 'All we are asking for is our pay. It's very unreasonable to have all these deductions.

The workers said they gathered to make a mass complaint because they felt that the company was ignoring their concerns.

The construction worker in his 40s said: 'We have no choice. We called the company, but could never reach them on the phone. That's why we have come to MOM.'

Agreed his colleague: 'It wasn't one person's idea. After speaking to each other, we realised that we all had the same problem. So we decided to take action since it involves everyone.'

Another worker who declined to give his age said: 'If the company pays me, I will continue to work for them.'

When contacted, MOM said it rendered assistance to some 200 foreign workers from Zhonghe Huaxing Development as well as China Nuclear Industry Huaxing Construction Co.

It is understood that the two companies share the same management.

The spokesman said that after MOM's intervention, the issues were amicably resolved. 'The key issues were salary arrears from September 08, and workers' unhappiness with the employers for wanting to revise certain employment terms,' she said.

'The employers have banked in the September 08 salaries into the workers' accounts today... (and) have also undertaken to pay basic salaries on time going forward.'

She added that the parties have also reached an understanding on other differences.

URL: http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/news/story/0,4136,188412,00.html?

'Don't want to work for less pay? Don't work then'

By Shree Ann Mathavan

January 01, 2009

THE month of December has seen a number of complaints by foreign workers here.

Among them was a group of 20 from Shanghai Construction (Group) General Co.

They claimed they have not been paid since September. They also alleged their construction company tried to get them to sign a contract with a lower salary range late last month.

When they refused, they were told to stop working.

Five of these workers spoke to The New Paper on condition of anonymity.

Their contracts signed through agents in China had promised that they would receive a salary range of $1,200 to $1,500. But the actual payment fell short, they claimed.

The workers typically clock long hours with no overtime pay at construction sites, they said.

For the first three months, they were given a token monthly allowance of $200. From the fourth month, the remainder of their monthly salaries were released to them in delayed fashion.

One worker in his 20s said they typically receive their first month's salary only from the fourth month, the second month's on the fifth month and so forth.

He said: 'This was not something stated in our contract.'

He said he had borrowed 30,000 yuan ($6,300) from friends and family to pay his agent in China.

Apart from delayed payment, the workers also had to contend with several deductions from their wages.

These included $300, which would be returned to them in a lump sum once they complete their one-year contract. The other deductions were for living expenses like food, said the workers who live in housing in the Geylang area.

They said they did not understand the new contract because it was not written in Chinese.

One thing they understood, however, was the salary range which was written in numerals.

They told their boss they wouldn't sign and went to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to complain. They are waiting for their dispute to be resolved.

When contacted, a spokesman for Shanghai Construction said: 'We don't wish to respond.'

In response to The New Paper's queries, an MOM spokesman confirmed that 20 workers approached it for help with their salary arrears.

The spokesman said: 'MOM has conciliated and settled the case for eight of the workers. The remaining workers' cases are being investigated.'


200 Chinese Foreign Workers Gather at ministry over Pay Dispute

The following article, published 1 Jan 2009, is reproduced from The New Paper.

'Let's tell MOM'

Nanny state? Some foreign workers like it. One group of 200 gets speedy results after gathering at ministry yesterday

By Tan May Ping and Shree Ann Mathavan

January 01, 2009

IT WAS a unanimous decision by the foreign workers, so they converged at one spot even though they lived in different places.

They banded together yesterday and showed up at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) building on Havelock Road to lodge complaints against their employer, construction firm Zhonghe Huaxing Development.

Not just a few workers' representatives but a group of 200 showed up for greater impact.

Foreign workers with grievances, like them, are both seen and heard in Singapore, judging from a string of cases over the years.

Though many don't speak English well or have high education, they often quickly learn the art of seeking attention from the right people.

Step 1: MOM which oversees the welfare of workers.

Step 2: The media which migrant workers have access to.

In the case of the Zhonghe Huaxing workers, they alleged they were not getting the salaries due to them, and objected to alleged unfair deductions from their wages.

Yesterday, the first group showed up around 8am. As subsequent batches arrived on the MRT and public buses, the workers clapped and cheered in a show of solidarity.

By 9am, their numbers had swelled to more than 200. They seemed to feel there was strength in numbers.

Security personnel at the building were put on alert. The men were later herded to a space at the back of the building, but still visible to those who were in the lobby.

They sat on the ground as MOM officers spoke to them, and the security officers stood watch. Their sheer numbers attracted stares from those inside the building.

When The New Paper team arrived at 10am, a group of about six had broken away from the rest and were outside the main entrance. When approached, they were anxious to tell their stories.

They alleged they had not been paid for a few months, and were frustrated that more than half of their salaries were deducted each month for various expenses.

Sleeping under tree

Another group of workers was spotted at the MOM yesterday.

This group of 18 Bangladeshi men had been featured in the media last week after spending the weekend sleeping on cardboard under a tree at Jalan Kayu.

Yesterday, they gave their statements to MOM about their pay dispute with their employers. The group's spokesman, Mr Mohammad Monerul Islam Monto, 28, claimed they were given work for only about three of the seven months that they were here.

He told The New Paper: 'We borrowed money and paid our agents $10,000 each, but haven't been given our pay since we came here. If we go back (without any money), we are dead.'

But their employers, JM Building Construction and Jericho Marine Services, had earlier said the workers were paid, and that they worked for only a fraction of their seven months here.

The other side

Employers can't take complaints lightly because they are subject to labour laws and are responsible for the conduct and repatriation of all foreign workers.

Meanwhile, the authorities don't want a wrong impression created that a significant proportion of foreign workers here get a raw deal. This is suggested by their responses when workers stage a mass event.

Yesterday, an MOM officer interrupted the interview with Zhonghe Huaxing workers and said that journalists should speak to his colleagues from the corporate communications department, which usually handles media queries.

But as the interviews were conducted outside the building, they continued.

'Did he say that you cannot talk to us?' one of the workers asked. Of course, there are no such restrictions here.

Just then, the workers noticed one of their bosses approaching. They said he was also from China.

'You'd better watch what you say,' the man said in Mandarin to the workers, and stood close by, determined to break up the interview. The workers turned silent and said they would speak to us later.

A member of MOM's corporate communications department then showed up, and said that the ministry would issue a statement.

Could we speak to the other workers?

After checking with her colleagues, she said it was not possible as the workers were speaking with the MOM officers and it could take some time. She added: 'It's better if you speak with the employer.'

When The New Paper later rang the workers to enquire about their welfare, they said they didn't have any idea where they were but were given some food to eat.

It is understood the workers were taken to an MOM office on Kim Seng Road. They were later gathered in a hall where they had a meeting with MOM officials.

'We were told to work with the company,' said one worker in his 30s from Jiangsu province.

Their bosses and some security personnel stood by. The workers were not allowed by their employer to leave the building. Once the meeting was over, the company transported them back to their housing.

And their show of solidarity worked. By the end of the day, their employers had met their demands. (See report on Page 4.)

Free meals

Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi workers from Jericho Marine said two of their colleagues involved in the pay dispute had flown home in the morning.

Said Mr Mohammad: 'Their relatives sent them money to buy air tickets to go home. We have no money, so we are stuck here.'

They are currently getting free daily dinners at a restaurant on Desker Road.

On 22 Dec, The Straits Times reported that the workers had to leave their dormitory in Tuas when their project in Jurong was completed. They were bound for a dormitory in Bukit Batok, but at the last minute, the deal was called off by the person in charge there.

That left the workers with nowhere to stay, and as a temporary measure, they were taken to the company's workers' quarters at a shophouse unit in Jalan Kayu.

But the workers said the apartment was overcrowded, and opted to sleep on a nearby grass patch instead.

After the men approached welfare group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, they were put up at various shophouses in Little India.

URL: http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/news/story/0,4136,188406,00.html?

'Jobless, Unpaid, Unfed'
180 Bangladeshi workers (see pix) from marine company Tipper Corporation abandoned at living quarters this month. Employer claimed two sub-contractors were responsible for workers and had abandoned them. They agreed to move to a new dormitory after boss promised they would get their money.

Found dead in Dorm
Bangladeshi worker, believed to have been covered in a rash, found dead in dormitory at Tagore Industrial Estate on Sunday. Ten other workers, diagnosed with chicken pox, warded for observation at the Communicable Disease Centre. The dead man, Mr Mohd Kamaluddin, 28, had stayed in a dormitory with 400 other workers.

'Fell from fourth storey'
On 9 Dec, Bangladeshi worker, suffering from chicken pox for three days, found lying injured at the bottom of dormitory. Mr Khokon Mollah Abu Taher, 24, died hours later in hospital. The shipyard worker with Star Weld believed to have fallen from fourth story of building at Tuas.

Labour MP Halimah Yacob said that every time there is a downturn, cases of unpaid wages escalate in the non-unionised sector.

Madam Halimah said: "The situation was the same in the last downturn and I am not surprised that we are seeing a repeat of it now that we are in a serious downturn."

She said that such cases typically involve smaller companies that have lost contracts or face cashflow problems.

"Foreign workers tend to be worst affected because unlike locals they lack mobility and cannot just walk out of their jobs if their companies don't pay them...," Madam Halimah said.

She said some may continue working without pay in the hope that things will get better and their companies will pay up.

"But we know that often does not happen," she said.

200 China National Workers Turn Up at MOM

TODAY, 31 Dec 2008

Are these workers just the tip of the iceberg?
By Leong Wee Keat

IN WHAT is becoming a familiar sight, a group of about 200 China national workers turned up at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday morning to complain about unauthorised salary deductions and wages owed to them. A group of 28 Bangladeshi workers have also filed similarcomplaints, claiming they had not been paid for the past four months.

Far from being isolated headline makers, recent reports of workers being left in the lurch seem to be the tip of an iceberg.

And the economic crunch, which has led to a swelling excess of manpower in many sectors, is bringing to the surface like never before underhanded practices — such as unsanctioned deductions, illegal deployment of workers and strong-arm tactics by employers during conciliation attempts.

Mr Zhai Yongli, one of the 200 workers at the MOM yesterday, was fearful he would have no money to send home for next month’s Chinese New Year. Like his fellow workers, the 36-year-old alleged that his employer made unauthorised deductions from his salary each month, supposedly for a “deposit” — a sum that has amounted to $8,000 so far.

Other workers from Zhonghe Huaxing Development and China Nuclear Industry Huaxing Construction claimed they were not paid for three months and that they had been subcontracted to other employers without their knowledge. When approached by TODAY, their employer, Mr Ye Fuliang, declined comment.

The China Nationals’ case echoes another high-profile case two weeks ago, when 179 :Bangladeshi workers were abandoned with months of wages unpaid; their registered employer is being probed for illegally deploying them.

TODAY understands that it is not uncommon practice for contractors or employers to bring in more workers than they need, then deploy them out illicitly to another sector for a kickback. But with the downturn and work drying up, these excess workers are left sitting on their hands.

Happily, for the 200 Chinese workers, a MOM spokesperson said late last night that the dispute had been “amicably” resolved – the employers yesterday banked in September’s wages into the workers’ accounts, and have pledged to make good on all arrears by the Chinese New Year, with the first instalment next week.

“The parties have also reached an understanding on other differences,” said the spokesperson.

Strong-arm tactics
Meanwhile, the Bangladeshis who had approached MOM yesterday claimed: they feared repatriation by their employer if they returned to their dormitory. The group of 28 have been sleeping along Desker Road for the past three nights.

Some employers have cancelled work permits even as pay disputes are being settled with MOM – presumably to pressure workers to cave in.

In October and November, 42 PRC workers from Xuyi Building Engineering Company approached MOM to recover their salary arrears and resolve penalty payments. According to MOM, the company unilaterally cancelled the work permits of six claimants, without applying for Special Passes to allow them to remain here pending the settlement of their claims. The six would have thus flouted immigration laws, and could be jailed and fined.

“MOM takes a serious view of such conduct by the employer, which jeopardizes the conciliation process,” said a spokesman. The employer was warned for failing to pay its workers on time, and “its irresponsible conduct” of cancelling the permits.

What such examples show, is that foreign worker’s situation is “quite precarious”, in Madam Halimah Yacob’s words.

“They can only work for one employer. So when they don’t get paid, and they owe creditors back home, they keep quiet, hoping that things will get better. They can’t walk out of the job like the Singaporean can, find another job and file a complaint with MOM,” said the MP who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Manpower.

She called: on MOM to step up enforcement against rogue employers and to review the foreign workers’ quota – fixed during times of good economic growth – to prevent similar situations from cropping up next year and in 2010.

MP Denise Phua said more agencies should be engaged in solving foreign-worker woes. “The final, total solution needs to be stitched not just by MOM, but with the relevant foreign embassies and other stakeholders like employers’ federations and NTUC ... from ensuring basics like food and lodging, to job placements where possible,” she said.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Workers Taken by Repatriation Companies

This news clip from Channel U news (11pm, 10 Dec 2008) features Mr. Chen Yu Guang and Mr. Xue Cheng Ming, construction workers hired by Xuyi Building Engineering who were taken from their dormitory on 2 Dec 2008 by repatriation companies hired by their employer. Both have salary arrears cases pending. Both Mr. Chen and Mr. Xue had their work permits canceled by their employer, who then hired the repatriation companies to hold them before calling the police. Chen and Xue were taken into police custody on 3 Dec 2008 and then sent to the Immigration Checkpoints Authority (ICA). They were finally released on 10 Dec 2008, the day they were interviewed. For a fuller story on this case, please read the Yawning Bread entry (www.yawningbread.org) further below titled, 'Muddy Singapore swallows China Workers'.

Here is a summary of the newsclip in Mandarin (from the Mediacorp website):

建筑客工讨薪水 公司取消工作准证
日期 : 10 December 2008 2226 hrs
网址 : http://www.xin.sg/article.php?article=26622





建筑劳工薛成明说:“12月2日,公司派了私人保安,到我的宿舍里,强行把我捉去。我说人力部叫我12月4日到人力部谈判,你现在为什么要把我捉走?他说我的准证,在11月26日已经割掉了,现在有权利来捉你了。保安公司把我扣押了12 小时,他就不让我自由,不让我打手机,也不准你到外面去。”