19 January 2009

Muddy Singapore swallows China workers, parts 3 and 4

These are the much-delayed (apologies!) wrap-up stories about the six men who were being pressurised by their employer to accept a fraction of their wages after not being paid for three months. Part 3 tells what eventually happened to them. Part 4 discusses the bigger picture why our foreign labour recruitment system is dysfunctional, resulting in the mess we see. Read Part 3 and Part 4.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

work/project contracts are awarded to employers with the lowest bid.

low cost foreign labour is the solution for them so how to expect welfare for foreign workers.

some industries in sg that hire local workers don't even have good welfare and protection like what western countries workers enjoy what more to expect for foreign workers in some of these industries.

singapore has a long way to go even though in name it is now first world country.

the people in power (they need to change) are always talking about keeping wages for singapore workers low and competitive so what can we expect for foreign workers in some of these industries...while they themselves the people in power are enjoying high salaries, are the best paid politicians in the whole world.

the people in power are also against minimum wages policies for local people so what can foreign workers expect if one wants to talk about welfare and protection

Anonymous said...

To quote YB (emphasis mine):

"Behind anonymity, civil servants can neglect their responsibilities or ABUSE THEIR POWERS, and get away with it."

And for good measure - this has
nothing to do with lack of
clear instructions from the top.
All they had to do was their jobs.

Anonymous said...

To YB,

Thanks for yr painstaking expose of foreign construction workers' abuses. Next time when a civil servant does not want to release his/her name to you, call the main line of that govt agency again & ask to speak to the Quality Service Manager whose tel nos are all listed in Singtel telephone directories & complain to them. That's what their roles are: to improve quality service within their agencies. Civil servants not releasing their names to you is a legitimate complaint. Also, all civil servants have to make public their job titles & names thru the Spore Govt Directory Interactive, this is their website:
http://www.sgdi.gov.sg/

The reason why construction companies are finding it hard to pay their laborers could be the issue of cash flow, their intended pay packages to workers did not materialize as it had been siphoned off to pay for raw materials used in construction. Perhaps not all companies are good in cash flow management in this industry.

One solution to safeguard workers payroll is for MOM to subcontract it out to a private central payagent of reputable standing to settle payrolls. I know that MOE pays their temp staff thru a contracted central payagent. MOE only handles payroll for its permanent staff. So it can be done as its already practised within the civil service.

So what MOM has to do is to legislate that all construction companies deposit an advance of 2 months salaries with this designated private central payagent which in turns pays the workers promptly every payday. Once the 2nd month salary is paid, within a week, the next 2 months salaries should be deposited with the central payagent. Failure to do so would render a court fine of $xx,xxx dollars per day/per week.

Sounds harsh but each construction company & MOM has to dance to the same beat or else this abuse problem would recur and blow up to be a diplomatic issue as you have predicted. Probably China would be the one to take trade sanctions first then Spore govt will notice & sit up.

Anonymous said...

In response to:

"The reason why construction companies are finding it hard to pay their laborers could be the issue of cash flow, their intended pay packages to workers did not materialize as it had been siphoned off to pay for raw materials used in construction. Perhaps not all companies are good in cash flow management in this industry."

Explain then why this affects only
certain workers. Not the the local staff, not the management.
Simple - they will
try to get away with whatever they can get away with. You paint them in a far too sympathetic light.

The bullying tactics they can use
on foreign worker cannot be used on
other workers. Good times bad times
as long as these tactics work, they will be used.

KiWeTO said...

first-world administration;
third-world administrators

first-world labour;
third-world labour abuse

first-world legal system;
third-world labour laws.


Do we really want to change? no. Labour intensive capitalism has always been built on the cheap labour of the masses. The bigger the exploitation, the better the profits.

'tis the same the world over.

Dare we claim to be better? Must we aspire to be better? Could we then show that we ARE better?

E.o.M.

KiWeTO said...

YB,

Point of Information
====================
I once asked an employer of chinese labour, and he told me that the going rate was about $1,300. So, the workers are not demanding anything in 'excess' of what the employer pays.

However, there is also the foreign worker levy, which was about $300 to 400. That would reduce their salaries closer to the amounts described in this series of reports. (and other 'deductions' and so forth).

======================
The question is - when being effectively "paid" $400 a month per labourer, you would think MOM(my) would be more attentive and effective at managing their portfolio.

then again, just all numbers and letters on a piece of paper to administrators.



E.o.M.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anonymous, 19 January, 10:16 - If the problem stems from cash flow difficulties, asking construction companies to subcontract payroll to a 3rd party (and deposit their pay IN ADVANCE) is unrealistic. In any case, overtime also has to be computer after the fact, so it is not really possible to know IN ADVANCE how much should be paid.

More generally, on the cash flow issue, what I suspect is happening is this, in the case of SOME companies (let's not tar all companies using foreign labour with the same brush):

1. Villager pays his local agent thousands of S$ to land a job.

2. Local agent transfers some of that money to employer in Singapore as "commission", via a Singapore labour agent (who probably takes a cut).

3. Employer uses that money to pay worker for his first few months (i.e. worker is being paid with his own money!)

4. When that money runs dry, employer starts to delay salaries for subsequent months.

5. If workers complain, get rid of workers. Go back to step 1 with a new batch of workers.

----

Another problem that employers complain about is that foreign workers cannot be redeployed from one project to another. So if a project is suspended or cancelled, they are all stuck. In these troubled times, plenty of projects may be delayed or cancelled.

I think this complaint about rigid rules is a fair one. MOM should reconsider it.

It is cheaper to redeploy workers who are already here than to pay airfare to send them back and recruit new workers, paying agents' commissions in the process!

yuen said...

To quote YB (emphasis mine):

"Behind anonymity, civil servants can neglect their responsibilities or ABUSE THEIR POWERS, and get away with it."

And for good measure - this has
nothing to do with lack of
clear instructions from the top.
All they had to do was their jobs.
----------
the Tan/Chen poetic guy was not anonymous

nor is yuen

Chee Wai Lee said...

Thank you, Alex, for taking the time and energy to do all this footwork and documenting the plight of these workers along with TWC2.

I hope this will prompt a fundamental change in the way we facilitate the transfer of foreign workers to our nation.

So far, on the political scene, it looks like Mr. Siew Kum Hong and Dr. Lam Pin Min have taken some interest in the matter. Perhaps they could take advantage of your work to press the government and the manpower ministry to do something about this sad state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

YB: "I believe publicising it in the blogosphere makes a difference".

I agree. I believe it forces the govt to "show-hand".

YB: "If the civil service thinks that they deserve the same respect and pay as the private sector, they should ask themselves whether they take responsibility to the same degree".

Well, the rot starts at the top. The world's best paid ministers led Singapore into recession ahead of all the other regional countries and lost a dangerous limping terrorist. Not forgetting richly rewarded head of govt investment companies lost our reserves on buying American banks.

Enough said.

Pandemonium said...

Two brief comments:

1) Anonymous civil servants are indeed an undesirable state of affairs, since it allows one to abdicate his/her responsibility and push away accountability. Yet in the same way - and perhaps ironically - many comments here (and many other websites) are anonymous as well. Where are the responsibility and accountability for words?

2) Many netizens have considered the online media as the one that will liberalise Singapore politically. Yet I think the lack of accountability is the very barrier that will prevent that from happening. But in Singapore, the role the online media can play, is not one to effect change in the political landscape, but to battle against censorship in the mainstream media. So kudos to you, Alex, for bringing this to light and catalysing the solution to problems that MSMs ought to have played.

Jackson Tan

Ape said...

Hi YB,

Just a thought.

Unscrupulous middle agent misled the foreign workers (FW) here with promises of relatively "high" salary and charges huge fees - can they continually do so if most of the FW are misled as such? Surely, if these FW have to take a loan, I'm sure they would have made some enquiries with people they know and trust and have worked in Singapore before they embark on their journey. What I'm suggesting here is that, by-and-large (and I hope 99.9999% of the FW, if not all) are truly gainfully employed, work their wage and return to get married/ build school/buy house etc.

On the suggestion of information campaign... I'm not so sure if this will work. Where is the target group? Bangledesh? OK, so they've "wise-n" up after the campaign. Unscrupulous employers/agents can no longer exploit them, so they'll go for say Zimbawe? Oh, they're smart? Let's try Tristan da Cunha. Thepoint is, if their home country does nothing to help their own citizens, would information campaign helps?

The suggestion proposed by Nilesh and your reference to British Gurkhas sounds promising. But again, not all employers are local companies. Would they rather trust their own agents or engage Singapore authorised recruitment agency? Without fees or commission? Perhaps TWC2 or HOME would do that but how are they going to sustain their operating cost?

Last I apologise if I missed things out as this was written in haste and have not given more thoughts.

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

What's the rest of Tan/Chen's name?

The point is that he never expected this to be exposed.

Would he have done the same thing
if he had known the public would
eventually know about it? That
was YB's point. Your apologetics
knows no bounds.

yuen said...

>Pandemonium

I myself dont see anything wrong with commenting anonymously, if the person feels it allows him/her to speak more forthrightly and freely, provided he/she appreciates that an anonymous comment is harder to assess: does the person have political affiliation? maybe an axe to grind against someone/some organizaton? especially if you want to make extended, in depth comments that require some effort to think through and write, identifying yourself adds effectiveness to your comments

in any case, if someone wants to trace your indentity and has the resources to follow it through, it can be done

Nick Chui said...

Good job alex. I admire you sense of social justice!

yuen said...

> Anonymous said...
> To Yuen:
> What's the rest of Tan/Chen's name?

still nitpicking on minor points? civil servants have job assignment records so who was where doing what can be identified; the crucial issue is dept policy; a complacent dept not only thinks everything is OK; it also thinks all its employees are OK, and that allows problems to build till they blow up

pay more attention to the bigger issues and put less blame on individual civil servants (but I would admit that the Chen/Tan guy, even for a civil servant in a situation he does not know how to handle, did a poor job)

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

Considering that it is a no-brainer
that he (Tan) is not supposed take sides,
consider also his colleague **who
notified the employer of the workers'
presence, enabling them to later
trap them in the MOE**. The second
bit is the one you never comment on. THIS IS WAY BEYOND A POOR JOB.

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

So, YB says "abuse of power",
you say "did a poor job".

Helping employers trap workers
in MOM is a "poor job".

yuen said...

to the two anons:

I guess you guys have not worked for the government or some other large bureaucracies; the workers were arrested because, according to immigration rules, their work permits were cancelled one month earlier, and they were already illegal immigrants so, according to one set of rules the civil servants have in the books, the workers should be expelled; in their case, there is a dispute with the employer, and a stay of enforcement is justified, but someone need to provide that instruction to the officials;

if you want to pin blame, that "someone" should be the target; now this is where "anonymity" comes in: nobody knows who this "someone" should be, or in fact making the right procedures is the responsibility of an single person at all;

the officials the workers saw actually could be identified easily from dept work assignments, even if they only gave out their surnames; they are not the anonymous ones

I had avoided long winded explanations like this previously, not wishing people to think that I am in some way part of it and am trying to divert blame from my friends; but since you now know how to trace my identity through my webpages, and since you guys are so persistent, a little effort at education seems worthwhile, but if this argument keeps going on and on, I guess YB will soon have to close this thread too, and anyone with new thoughts to contribute will end up not being able to do so, which would be a pity

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

Which particular case were
you rationalizing in your long post?

"Poor job" is when you misplace
a file causing delays to a case
you are handling.

"Abuse of power" is when your job
is to be impartial and you threaten one party on behalf of the other.

I would like to see how
"Rub two stones and you get a spark. But if you have an egg and a stone.... You workers are the eggs." gets rationalized into
something that is not a threat.

"Poor job" is when you miss an appointment.

"Abuse of power" is when you allow
one party to exploit that appointment to entrap the people you were supposed to be meeting.

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

You mention immigration rules.

Why no mention of rules regarding
payment of wages?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else here think there
is a very major disconnect
between this:

"I guess you guys have not worked for the government or some other large bureaucracies; the workers were arrested because, according to immigration rules, their work permits were cancelled one month earlier, and they were already illegal immigrants so, according to one set of rules the civil servants have in the books, the workers should be expelled; in their case, there is a dispute with the employer, and a stay of enforcement is justified, but someone need to provide that instruction to the officials; "

and what YB's original article
described.

Anonymous said...

"but if this argument keeps going on and on, I guess YB will soon have to close this thread too, and anyone with new thoughts to contribute will end up not being able to do so, which would be a pity"

This is a non-sequitur. Comments
being moderated does not mean that
if you want to suppress one comment, you have to suppress all.

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

"but someone need to provide that instruction to the officials; "

This AK Tan is a very interesting
fellow. So according to you, since
he received no instruction from his
superior, he concluded the best course of action would be to side
with the employer to threaten the
workers with: "Rub two stones and you get a spark. But if you have an egg and a stone.... You workers are the eggs."

This Ms Foo [Kim Hui] is even more interesting. Since she received no instruction from her superiors, she
used her appointment with the workers as a way for the employers
to entrap them. Mind you, this was
an appointment. She needed her
superior to tell her what an appointment is for? (Like "turn up").

yuen said...

I guess the anons have not paid attention to later events: the hundreds of unpaid workers that protested to MOM; they were not arrested by police nor handed over to their employers, and no Ms Foo (anonymous?) tried to "entrap" them or "collude" with employers; no AKTan (surname AND initials) talked poetically to them - "someone" had by then found it necessary to devise new rules to handle the situation; that "someone" is anonymous; he/she/they were guilty of complacency, but not conspiracy

yuen said...

>Comments being moderated does not mean that if you want to suppress one comment, you have to suppress all.

maybe you have not noticed: all comments are closed for Part 2

Anonymous said...

"I guess the anons have not paid attention to later events: the hundreds of unpaid workers that protested to MOM; they were not arrested by police nor handed over to their employers, and no Ms Foo (anonymous?) tried to "entrap" them or "collude" with employers; no AKTan (surname AND initials) talked poetically to them - "someone" had by then found it necessary to devise new rules to handle the situation; that "someone" is anonymous; he/she/they were guilty of complacency, but not conspiracy"

No point is being made here
at all (in the quoted comments above).

After YB's expose, of course they would not dare!!!!

That is why YB work must be allowed
its full force and not be blunted
by apologetics.

Anonymous said...

"maybe you have not noticed: all comments are closed for Part 2"

Not true for this thread (which is what we
are interested in).

YB has disallowed some comments and allowed
others. Good comments will still get through.

And I see nothing wrong with this argument.
The value of this argument is in teasing
out all the possible rationalizations anyone might
propose for the actions of Foo and Tan and the MOM and allow
others to show how weak and "grasping at straws" these rationalizations
are.

Anonymous said...

""someone" had by then found it necessary to devise new rules to handle the situation"

You need rules to tell you that
meeting appointments are for
meetings and not for helping
employers entrap workers?

You need rules to tell you that
when your job is to be impartial,
you are not supposed to threaten one side on behalf
of another?

Or is a far lower standard of common sense being expected of civil servants compared to ordinary folk?

yuen said...

YB: on third thought, please delete both previous comments - I think I ought to make the effort go into the matter itself and not try to shut people up with a snappy answer (I am showing the same "authoritarian tentency" I was accusing other of - the lengthy discussion is making me lose patience)
-----------

>helping employers entrap workers

actually, it is very simple to explain: just as there is a rule "anyone whose work permit was cancelled one month ago becomes an illegal immigrant and should be handed over to police", there is rule "the employer is responsible for foreign labour"; under this simple rule, you ask the employer to come and "take responsibility", when you yourself dont know what to do

after the serious turn of events, higher officials recognized that (a) sometimes the contractor that brought in the workers would try to pass the responsibility to subcontractors, ending up with no one taking responsibility (b) there may be a dispute betwee the two parties so the employer will not "take responsibility" in the right way, especially as they know that by waiting one month, the worker becomes subject to expulsion and wont be around to continue the dispute; so the officials devise new rules

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

Quoted from Part 1:
"WHATEVER IT IS, IT'S QUITE EVIDENT THAT THE MEN ARE NOT OVERSTAYERS"

Part 1 of the article contradicts
your account.

Quoted (emphasis mine):

The way things are supposed to work in Singapore is that when employees are in a dispute with en employer, the Ministry of Manpower issues them with special passes so that they can remain in Singapore until the issues have been resolved. Having a letter from the Ministry of Manpower setting up an appointment is a good sign that these people had been put on special passes.

Moreover, a certain Nigel, an officer with the Ministry of Manpower, would later confirm to TWC2 that these men had been issued with special passes, but he also said that these passes were handed over to the employer at the time of issuance. However, Nigel added that the "passes had expired because the employer neglected to renew them" according to an email Stephanie received from TWC2.

This does not make any sense, so the above information may be wrong. How can Manpower entrust the special passes to the employer when the employer and workers are locked in a dispute? How can the employer have the discretion to "renew" or not, the special passes, when the employer would have an interest in throwing the workers out of the country?

WHATEVER IT IS, IT'S QUITE EVIDENT THAT THE MEN ARE NOT OVERSTAYERS -– and based on usual procedure, they would not be -– but the police seemed to think he was. It is believed that like Chen Yuguang's case, Xuyi called the police after their security agents had seized Xue Chengming, with Xuyi telling the police that Xue was an overstayer. The police appeared to be uninterested in checking their information. Effectively, therefore, the police were holding people unlawfully.

yuen said...

>This does not make any sense, so the above information may be wrong. How can Manpower entrust the special passes to the employer when the employer and workers are locked in a dispute? How can the employer have the discretion to "renew" or not, the special passes, when the employer would have an interest in throwing the workers out of the country?

so this proves AKTan, Ms Foo, etc, were "colluding" with employers? or just badly designed procedures that had to be redesigned later?

it is always convenient that people blame junior officials that they can actually see, instead of the real cause of problems; this is one of those "weapons of mass distration" that benefit powerful people

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else notice the
how "grasping at straws" the following account is:

"actually, it is very simple to explain: just as there is a rule "anyone whose work permit was cancelled one month ago becomes an illegal immigrant and should be handed over to police", there is rule "the employer is responsible for foreign labour"; under this simple rule, you ask the employer to come and "take responsibility", when you yourself dont know what to do"

when part 1 is crystal clear:

"Were they overstayers? This could not be so, because Xue Chengming, for one, had a letter from the Ministry of Manpower setting an appointment date of 4 December, and it was only 2 or 3 December when the police took him in."

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

Why did you quote (strawman alert)

"This does not make any sense, so the above information may be wrong. How can Manpower entrust the special passes to the employer when the employer and workers are locked in a dispute? How can the employer have the discretion to "renew" or not, the special passes, when the employer would have an interest in throwing the workers out of the country?"

and commented:

"so this proves AKTan, Ms Foo, etc, were "colluding" with employers? or just badly designed procedures that had to be redesigned later?"

when it is obvious the collusion
was

1) Foo's role in helping employers
entrap workers

and

2) AKTan threatening workers on behalf of employers.

You have stopped rationalizing 2)
and contradicted the article
for 1).

If you don't like "collusion",
I am happy to use YB's term
"abuse of power".

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

"it is always convenient that people blame junior officials that they can actually see, instead of the real cause of problems; this is one of those "weapons of mass distration" that benefit powerful people"

This makes no sense.

All Foo had to do was do what ordinary people do when they have an appointment. Turn up. She turned
it into a trap for the workers. Blame her boss for this?

All Tan had to do was not
take sides. Blame his boss for
not telling him that threatening
workers is taking sides?

yuen said...

oh guys, still at it; I am beginning to suspect you guys are working on behalf of high MOM officials, trying to put the blame for the big mess on junior civil servants

collusion: what benefits do the civil servants get for colluding with those contractors?

even abuse of power: do junior civil servants have "power", or merely follow instructions, including badly formulated instructions that leave them at a loss of what to do?

I maintain:

Ms Foo was not part of a conspiracy/corrupt practice, merely following the rule "foreign labour is the reponsibility of employers" - till otherwise instructed later

AKTan was not "threatening" the workers, merely telling them of their weak bargaining position, which was the case before "someone" thought of new rules as the situation blew up

BTW, since you guys are so interested in conspiracy theories, maybe you think I am "colluding" with someone in MOM, contractor company, etc; exactly whom am I defending and what are my motives? as you guys are so persistent, maybe you want to dig deeply into this and expose everyone in this big conspiracy to victimize foreign workers...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else notice
a contradiction?

First we have:

*****
Ms Foo was not part of a conspiracy/corrupt practice, merely following the rule

"FOREIGN LABOUR IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF
EMPLOYERS"

- till otherwise instructed later
*****


Then, apparently without irony,
we have AK Tan getting involved
in his own very unique way
(eggs and all):



*****
AKTan was not "threatening" the workers, merely telling them of their weak bargaining position, which was the case before "someone" thought of new rules as the situation blew up
*****

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

We have the
EMPLOYMENT OF FOREIGN MANPOWER ACT
and the
EMPLOYMENT ACT.

How did MOM conclude from these
2 pieces of legislation that
"foreign labour is the reponsibility of employers"?

Anonymous said...

"even abuse of power: do junior civil servants have "power", or merely follow instructions, including badly formulated instructions that leave them at a loss of what to do?"

How much power do you need to just
turn up for an appointment that you
have accepted? How much power do you need to NOT turn an appointment into a trap?

And when you are "at a loss of
what to do", I suppose the most
natural thing to do is to trap
the workers?

Anonymous said...

This is a red herring (in the
logical fallacy sense):

"oh guys, still at it; I am beginning to suspect you guys are working on behalf of high MOM officials, trying to put the blame for the big mess on junior civil servants"

So is this:

"BTW, since you guys are so interested in conspiracy theories, maybe you think I am "colluding" with someone in MOM, contractor company, etc; exactly whom am I defending and what are my motives? as you guys are so persistent, maybe you want to dig deeply into this and expose everyone in this big conspiracy to victimize foreign workers..."

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

"collusion: what benefits do the civil servants get for colluding with those contractors?"

The earliest use of the word
"collude" appears on
21 January, 2009 22:42 and is
from you.

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:

"AKTan was not "threatening" the workers, merely telling them of their weak bargaining position, which was the case before "someone" thought of new rules as the situation blew up"

Let me tell my version of the
story and let readers decide which
version is more likely.

Tan wanted it to be over as soon
as possible. It is over when one
side gives in. Who is more likely
to give in? So, let's "help" it
along. He didn't need rules to
figure this out.

Anonymous said...

"oh guys, still at it; I am beginning to suspect you guys are working on behalf of high MOM officials, trying to put the blame for the big mess on junior civil servants"

Nothing to stop you from attributing the mess to the
higher ups.

But Tan and Foo (like every one
else) should not be exempted
from the basic rules of decency
and common sense.

yuen said...

still not giving up, guys? still want to blame junior civil servants for "colluding with employers", "entrapping the workers", "threatening them" etc? has anyone come up a good reason what motivates them to want to victimize the workers? you guys are not seriously suggesting that they were bribed by the contractors?

isnt it obvious from the big blowup with hundreds of unpaid and unfed workers that the problem was due to "someone" not having thought of such problems and laying out procedures to deal with such disputes beforehand? rather than due to corrupt actions and abuse of power by junior officials?

I have no idea what point you guys are trying to prove with this prolonged argument; how about letting this from one of you fellows be the final word:

> Nothing to stop you from attributing the mess to the
higher ups. But Tan and Foo (like every one else) should not be exempted from the basic rules of decency and common sense.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

And with that, this thread is closed.