Five months after Parliament changed the law to empower officials to arrest bosses who do not pay their staff, the authorities have clarified that only repeat offenders will be arrested.
The Manpower Ministry told The Straits Times yesterday that it is targeting "employers who are persistently uncooperative".
"MOM officers can now arrest them to assist in investigations," said MOM's divisional director Then Yee Thoong.
His clarification came after this newspaper reported on Tuesday that MOM officials enforcing the Employment Act have new powers to arrest errant bosses on the spot without warrants.
The change was debated in Parliament last November, when Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that the powers will allow officials to "arrest any person reasonably believed to be guilty of the failure to pay salary".
But Mr Then made it clear that the ministry will not arrest bosses without prior investigation or due care.
He gave the assurance: "MOM will enforce the Employment Act in a professional manner."
Firms and experts welcomed the ministry's clarification.
"There may be some bosses, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who may have hit a rough patch and delayed salary payments," said Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm People Worldwide Consulting.
"To be arrested on the spot for running into a bad economic cycle or other business failures would seem harsh."
But some business owners felt that tough action should not be restricted to salary payments.
"I strongly support this new ruling, but I am sad to say there is no ruling to nail bosses who refuse to pay customers on (their) outstanding invoices," said Ms Lilian Tan, a director at home-grown heavy machinery leasing firm HSL Construction and Trading.
"I hope the relevant authorities can look into this issue and help SMEs," she added.
This article was published on April 3 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.