Fair Dismissal, Salary Payment and Repatriation for Migrant Workers

Parliamentary Question, 4 June 2020

https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Coronavirus/Singapore-s-coronavirus-spike-sends-world-a-wake-up-call

Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Manpower (a) what measures are undertaken to ensure fair dismissal practices by employers of work permit holders who have been tested positive for COVID-19 and after the circuit breaker period; (b) what is the course of action for work permit holders who (i) have lost their jobs (ii) have salaries unpaid or (iii) wish to return to their countries of origin; © how have measures to safeguard employment and payment of salaries been communicated to (i) work permit holders and (ii) their employers; and (d) whether the Ministry will issue an advisory on (i) employment (ii) salaries (iii) fair dismissal practices and (iv) contract termination for all work permit holders and their employers.

The Minister for Manpower, Mrs. Josephine Teo, responded to this question with the other MPs’ questions. Here’s an extract from her full response to the question:

The Government cannot also be expected to provide the same degree of fiscal support to employers to retain their foreign employees compared to their local employees, as Ms Anthea Ong seems to advocate. That is not a question of fairness, but reasonableness.

With respect to disputes involving dismissals, salary payment or repatriation home, there are established processes for handling them. It should not matter whether the worker contracted COVID-19 or not. Employers do not dismiss people because they got the flu or dengue, and they should not do so with COVID-19 either.

We have made clear to employers that even if business is disrupted, they must use the levy rebates that the Government has provided to give salary support to their migrant workers. It has also been a long-standing policy that employers have a duty to upkeep their workers until they have been repatriated home. These obligations remain unchanged in this downturn. It is not new to employers and MOM has not seen an increase in the number of such disputes. In any case, migrant workers with issues can raise them to MOM and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management through the Migrant Worker Ambassadors and the Forward Assurance and Support Team officers that are currently deployed at the dormitories.

We are very mindful that this period can be stressful to all workers and, of course, to our migrant workers as well, particularly those who are living in dormitories. As detailed in my Ministerial Statement in the last sitting of Parliament, we have made extensive efforts to disseminate information to them, in their native languages. Many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have helped with volunteers manning hotlines and providing additional materials. We are very grateful for their partnership.

Mr Speaker: Ms Anthea Ong.

Ms Anthea Ong (Nominated Member): Before I ask the supplementary questions, can I put on record, given what the Minister had said, there was no implication on my part to say how employers should treat foreign workers versus local workers. Especially for myself, I am an employer of local employees. So, I do not think it was fair to infer that was my implication from the question that I asked.

I have two supplementary questions for the Minister. She mentioned TADM and we are aware of it; and given that in-person services for TADM and also that the Employment Claims Tribunal are currently suspended due to safe distancing measures, could I ask the Minister how has the Ministry communicated the online process of filing salary and wrongful dismissal claims to work permit holders. And again, if this communication for the online process is also translated into their native languages.

The second question is, there was a advisory dated 25 April 2020 regarding salary and leave arrangements during circuit breaker, where employers of work permit holders are responsible for their maintenance and upkeep. As we exit the circuit breaker, for work permit holders who cannot work due to COVID-19 or the fact that their dormitories are being gazetted as isolation areas, could the Minister please clarify if employers of work permit holders must continue to pay for: one, their salaries; two, their living arrangements; three, their food expenses and also last but not least, miscellaneous expenses.

Mrs Josephine Teo: Mr Speaker, on Ms Ong’s second question, the position has been very clear, from the beginning. Wherever it is that the workers are living and including in the dormitories, the employers have primary responsibility. But as Ms Ong will also be aware, in the gazetted dormitories and subsequently in all the purpose-built dormitories, the Government put together staff teams to support the operations at the dormitories. And that had included a provision of food as well. So, that part of it I think, has been clear even during this period of the circuit breaker, the employers have responsibility for salary and for upkeep.

Ms Ong mentioned miscellaneous expenses, I am not entirely sure what other miscellaneous expenses they include, but if it has to do with the upkeep of the workers, then the answer is yes. Outside of that, there is no blanket to say that the employers must cover all of the workers’ cost. It depends on what those cost items are.

Back to her first question, on whether the online processes are available in native languages, the online application itself may not be, but then it is also not available in Chinese, in Malay or in Tamil. But what is important is that access to those channels is not impeded by language barriers. For that, we work together with our partners — the Migrant Workers’ Centre, for example, has got not just staff but also a very large pool of volunteers and these volunteers can include the migrant workers themselves. In fact, most often, they are the migrant workers themselves. When a worker comes to work in Singapore for the first time, they go through a settling-in programme and the migrant workers’ ambassadors are also familiar, or at least we continuously reach out through them, to remind workers of which are the avenues that they have to raise their concerns.

Many Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) also establish links with these workers. Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, engages these NGOs on a very regular basis. We have worked out a system where regardless of where these workers are housed, they are able to provide feedback and raise their concerns with us so that we can address them properly.

If language turns out to be a barrier, we have no shortage of people who are able to come into intermediate. The process may take a little bit longer, but it can be done.

And finally, I appreciate Ms Ong’s clarification on her intent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng

A full-time human, and part-time everything else.

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