More protection for low-wage workers

Every payday for five years, Madam Lam Yook Chan, 60, would collect her salary in cash, as well as sign and return a piece of paper indicating simply how many days she had worked and how much she was paid per day.

She was earning around $45 a day working as a packer and goods manager at a small pharmaceutical company, and was not paid for overtime despite occasional 12-hour shifts.

But she did not know her employer was actually short-changing her of some $13,000 worth of Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions, as her payslips did not indicate this.

"I was too oblivious and I didn't know what my boss was supposed to give me (in my pay). I thought it was just good to have a job," she told The Straits Times in Mandarin.

Low-wage workers like Madam Lam could have more protection now that bosses are required by law to provide detailed payslips within three working days of salary payments, listing items such as overtime pay and deductions.

The rule kicked in last Friday and applies to all workers covered by the Employment Act, though companies have a one-year grace period before Ministry of Manpower enforcement is stepped up.

Figures from the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) U Care Centre and Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union showed that around one in five worker grievances they deal with is over a salary dispute.

In Madam Lam's case, she discovered the problem only when she sought help from the U Care Centre in 2013 as the company refused to pay her salary after she tendered her resignation.

"If companies are more transparent, it would be fairer for all workers," she said.

Madam Lam, who now works at a medical manufacturing firm which provides more detailed payslips, was able to recover the CPF money she was owed and alerted her former colleagues to the problem so that they could do the same.

For a healthcare assistant, who gave his name as Mr Ismail, the requirement for detailed payslips will take the burden of verifying payments off the shoulders of employees like himself.

When Mr Ismail, 69, started his current job six months ago, he found that his payslips were not detailed and payments were difficult to track, as they were not credited to his bank account on the date reflected on the payslip.

He had help from NTUC's U Care Centre several times to claim overtime payment shortfalls. He typically earns around $1,800 a month, including overtime pay.

Mr Ismail said his payslips are delivered through e-mail, but he thinks physical copies are better because some workers do not have e-mail access and could be cheated if they are not able to easily check their pay. The law states that payslips can be given in soft or hard copy, and can be handwritten.

Still, the itemised payslips will be more convenient as the payment components are all shown in a user-friendly way, said Mr Ismail.

"With simple addition and subtraction, we can calculate what we should be getting. There is no beating around the bush," he said.

This article was first published on April 8, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.