The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has hauled 158 employers to court in the last three years for not paying the salaries of their workers. All were convicted.
But Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said his ministry does not intend to criminalise all such cases, especially in cases where employers cannot pay owing to business failures. Its main goal is to deter errant employers by prosecuting serious and repeated cases, he said in Parliament yesterday.
Last year, the MOM received about 9,000 complaints against 4,500 employers who failed to pay their workers. About 95 per cent of the cases were resolved by the ministry and the Labour Court, Mr Lim said in his reply to Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) and Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin.
Of the salary claims against 208 employers that were not resolved, some involved 199 employers that had either ceased operations or were about to do so owing to money problems.
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Workers of these firms had a slim chance of recovering the money owed from their employers, Mr Lim said, adding: "This is not because the employers could just refuse to pay up, but because they are mostly in deep financial difficulties."
For work injury compensation, five of the 15,679 workers injured last year got nothing as their employers did not insure them. They represented about 0.1 per cent of the work injury cases MOM handled last year.
Four of the workers are foreigners and one, a local. Their bosses are being prosecuted, Mr Lim said.
Employers who do not pay their workers are banned from hiring new foreign workers until they have settled their debt. The ban applies even if they set up new companies, he added.
Though nearly all the cases in the two types of disputes were resolved, MOM is still concerned for the small number left empty-handed, Mr Lim said. "Salary is hard-earned money," he noted. "When a worker is injured, it may affect his ability to work and to not pay him the compensation is unacceptable," he added. "We will continue to strengthen our support for them."
Local workers with salary claims can get financial help from a panel that will be set up in April by the MOM, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) to settle pay disputes.
Singaporeans who are seriously injured and did not receive compensation can get financial aid from a Workers' Fund run by MOM.
Foreign workers can turn to the Migrant Workers' Centre set up by the NTUC and SNEF.
Workers with Labour Court orders in their favour and have hope of getting some payment by seizing their employers' assets have to apply to the State Courts to do so, Mr Lim said, adding: "This is the same process that applies to all unpaid Civil Court orders, including those made by the State Courts."
Mr Lim urged workers to bring their salary complaints to MOM immediately and not wait.
"This will greatly improve the chances of successfully resolving the claims before the employers reach dire financial straits," he said.
This article was first published on Feb 7, 2017. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.