U Care makes a big difference

U Care makes a big difference

When Madam Lam Yook Chan approached the then newly opened U Care Centre in November last year, she was focused on getting back her pay from her previous employer, who had refused to give it.

She said in Mandarin: "I had already quit in 2012, but (my employer) did not want to pay me for that half month I worked."

Instead, the former odd-job worker at a pharmaceutical company, who earns about $1,000 a month, got back $13,000.

It turned out that her former employer had never contributed to her or her colleagues' Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts while they were working for him.

"I did not even know my entitlement," said the Singapore permanent resident, who is now working as a packer at another firm.

Since it opened in November last year, the support centre for low-wage workers has helped about 5,500 workers who, like Madam Lam, mostly did not know their rights.

Its director, Mr Zainal Sapari, said: "Some did not understand their payslips, so they did not know what they were missing."

Other issues being looked into include the non-payment of salaries, miscalculations in CPF contributions and unauthorised salary deductions, said the assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

While the centre has reached out to some 50,000 low-wage workers through 50 introductory events in its freshman year, more can be done as the number is only an eighth of those who are on the Workfare Income Supplement scheme. This gives payouts to top up the wages of lower-income workers, said Mr Zainal, who is also an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

His plan is to set up similar centres in the heartland to reach more low-wage earners as some cannot afford the time to travel to the U Care Centre, located at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East, he said.

Budgetary concerns will dictate how these centres are set up and operate, he said. For now, he is considering setting up outposts in other NTUC organisations, but more details will come later.

Meanwhile, the centre is also in talks with the Singapore Law Society to set up free legal clinics for those who require specialised help.

Mr Zainal said: "Through our outreach initatives and efforts to be accessible to more low-wage workers, we hope more will be made aware of their employment rights."


This article was first published on December 27, 2014.
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