Plug gaps in system to reduce illegal work

PHOTO: Plug gaps in system to reduce illegal work

WHEN injured or unpaid foreign workers work in the shadow economy, it may be easy to see their behaviour as the problem ("Workers find illegal jobs through informal network"; Monday). But it is the system that is the problem, and the workers rarely have any choice but to find work.

There are push and pull factors behind this.

In theory, injured workers on medical leave should be regularly paid two-thirds of their previous salary, so they can survive.

In practice, the Manpower Ministry often falls short in enforcing this, and workers are left with no income.

Another gap in the system is the lack of provision for workers who have recovered enough to be off medical leave, but have no job to return to while waiting for the compensation process to be completed. Currently, they are left destitute and homeless.

Transient Workers Count Too has proposed to the ministry that, for these cases, the existing rule that (previous) employers must provide "maintenance and upkeep" be rigorously enforced.

For simplicity, it should be monetised at two-thirds of their previous salary.

Workers with salary complaints, that is, those who have not been paid by their employers, may find themselves languishing as the salary dispute resolution proceeds slowly.

We have argued for a policy revamp, to allow these workers to find new transfer jobs quickly without having to be repatriated, even while their dispute with the previous employer is being worked out.

The flip side is that the Government needs to restrict the entry of fresh workers, so that existing ones looking for transfer jobs can get a reasonable shot at success.

The pull factor is the relatively attractive pay the shadow economy offers.

Partly, it reflects the risk of being caught by the law or being injured without insurance cover; it may also represent the market rate for low-skilled labour.

The rate offered by legitimate employers is artificially depressed, the result of excessive power given to employers to terminate a worker's employment at any time and summarily send him home, after he has invested thousands of dollars to find a job here.

Fixing the flaws in the system is key to reducing illegal work: Ensure prompt payment of medical leave wages, enforce employers' obligation for upkeep and maintenance, and permit workers to transfer freely to new jobs.

Russell Heng


Transient Workers Count Too

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