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Pay-linked disputes on the rise: Migrant Workers' Centre

Cases involving salary-related disputes are on the rise, says the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC). In just the first four months of this year, such cases made up the majority of its caseload.

SINGAPORE: Cases involving salary-related disputes are on the rise, says the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC).

In just the first four months of this year, such cases made up the majority of its caseload.

Some 600 migrant workers turned up at The Cathay Cineplex for a free screening of the latest Spider-Man movie on Sunday.

It was one of several free movie screenings organised by the MWC as part of its May Day celebrations and as a way of showing appreciation to these workers.

Meanwhile some 10,500 migrant workers watched Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters for free at five different locations, including dormitories.

For some, it was a welcome change from their usual Sunday routine.

"Off day, I never go out. Always stay (in) room only. Because (when I) go out ... money lost ... I don't like," said Mani Iyyappan, who works as a painter.

"One hour, two hours, go temple. After that, go back to the room and cook, and eat. After that, sleep," said Thangaraju Ramadoss, another painter.

Beyond showing migrant workers that their hard work is appreciated, MWC said it will continue to push for fair employment practices and improve employment terms for them.

For example, it wants salaries to be paid through electronic means, like GIRO.

The MWC said it has handled more salary-related disputes in recent years.

These include issues like late payments, shortage of payments, and even non-payments.

The numbers show an increasing awareness of avenues that foreign workers can go to for help.

Other issues MWC handles include employment-related and injury-related matters.

In 2012, about half of the 2,500 cases MWC handled involved salary-related disputes.

The number rose to about 60 per cent of its 3,500 cases last year.

MWC believes having electronic payslips can help tackle the problem.

Migrant Workers' Centre chairman, Yeo Guat Kwang, said: "One of the key measures we would like to propose is, really, to make it mandatory for electronic payment.

"The problem today is that even if the workers come to us for us to handle their disputes, one key problem we face is still about the evidence.

"(Lack of a) payslip is one issue. So, instead of just trying to put (producing a) payslip as a mandatory arrangement, it will be better to go one step forward to make it a point to actually go by electronic payment.

"It's much more clear-cut and also very easy for us to administer and monitor to ensure all workers will receive their pay promptly.

"Based on a consistent amount, we'll be able to know whether the worker was paid fairly or not.

"For example, if there are any changes in the numbers, then we know... there may be (an) illegal deduction, then that's something we can actually follow up with the employers to find out more and to help the workers further."

Mr Yeo noted that although the number of workers who come to MWC for help is "quite small" compared to the total foreign-worker population, he pointed to a "trend" of more employees from the same company reporting salary-related disputes.

"In the past, we saw a few, or one or two workers, come to us. Lately we've been seeing groups of workers from one or two companies," he added.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said earlier this year that his ministry will study Mr Yeo's suggestion regarding electronic salary payments.

MWC also said it will work with the Manpower Ministry to implement a model employment contract, where specific service agreements and key employment terms are clearly spelt out.

The contract will also emphasise the importance of skills upgrading for migrant workers by pushing for skills certification to be made a requirement for renewing work permits. 

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