SINGAPORE: The labour movement’s Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) has urged the government to make salary safekeeping illegal.
This refers to the practice of employers holding on to the wages of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) and paying them later.
In its second social report card, the CDE revealed that it took in 607 cases in 2017, an increase from 517 the year before.
One common issue faced was that of salary disputes.
Since the launch of the centre in 2016, the CDE has recovered more than S$113,668 in salary disputes, with S$15,000 being the highest amount owed in a single case.
These disputes include those with safekeeping arrangements.
Centre Chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said: “We realise that for cases that have been owed for too long, the sum becomes too big, we find it very difficult to recover.
“So it is important for us to ask the government to make safekeeping of the salaries illegal.”
Mr Yeo added that it is also the responsibility of the FDWs to safekeep their own money.
CDE has been actively promoting the use of e-payments as a measure to reduce salary disputes as the platform can officially track salary transactions.
Currently 79 per cent of FDWs the centre surveyed receive their salaries in cash. Of these, 60.3 per cent were open to switch to e-payments.
To facilitate this, CDE has collaborated with POSB and employment agencies to assist FDWs in opening a POSB Payroll Account (FDW). Under this scheme, account holders do not need a minimum of S$500 to open an account.
As of mid-December last year, a total of 1,913 applications were submitted to the bank. The number is set to rise as CDE intends to work with the Manpower Ministry to roll this out to newly arrived FDWs.
But it remains a work in progress.
CDE observed that FDWs from Myanmar are most open to making the switch to e-payments, followed by their counterparts in Philippines, and Indonesia.
The centre has also urged employers to raise the insurance coverage of FDWs. Currently, the minimum sum for medical insurance is S$15,000.
"Under the law, the employers are required to purchase insurance of S$15,000 coverage for workers for their medical needs,” Mr Yeo said, citing workplace accidents and illnesses as examples.
“Over the years we have found that for some extreme cases, $15,000 is too low, with healthcare costs in Singapore.”
But he acknowledges the challenge of getting employers to pay higher premiums. The centre will be conducting focus group sessions later this year with employers to gather feedback before deciding on a course of action.
CDE is planning to open a third satellite office in Lucky Plaza later this year to provide immediate assistance to Filipino FDWs. It currently has two satellite offices in City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza.
It will also be launching a new hub by the end of 2018 to expand its current shelter’s capacity from 100 to 200.
The new hub will bring in training providers to conduct programmes for new-entrants, those in employment as well as distressed workers.
CDE Executive Director Shamsul Kamar said: “Engagement is very important, especially for our distressed workers because they have so many things at the back of their minds.
“So with upskilling, or even some simple refresher courses for them, would keep help them be mentally prepared to be placed back into work after their stay.”