Singapore. Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin has said that his ministry will not put up with the wrongful confinement of foreign workers, the forceful repatriation of them, or the failure to settle their salaries and other claims.

His post on his Facebook wall yesterday, under the headline “Protecting Workers”, said that when such allegations come to the attention of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), investigations are launched into the repatriation companies and the employers who engage them.

He said foreign workers who turn to MOM will have their cases attended to within two weeks of being registered.

Last year, more than nine in 10 employment disputes filed with MOM were resolved through mediation within six weeks upon MOM’s intervention, he said.

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan opened his post by noting that online articles on the protection of foreign workers and salary dispute cases had been brought to his attention recently. He did not say where or when these articles appeared, or say which ones triggered his post.

An article, reposted on his Facebook wall by a netizen on Monday, alleged that repatriation companies were locking up foreign workers to ensure they do not go missing before they are sent home.

Tan said MOM has worked with the Home Affairs Ministry since last June to investigate and prosecute such cases.

He noted that last year, for example, an employee of a repatriation company was jailed a month for voluntarily causing hurt. The employer which engaged the company was given a warning for abetting in wrongful restraint.

A post on the blog Yawning Bread on July 9 highlighted a case of 23 foreign workers who claimed to have not been paid their wages. It reported that the workers had gone to non-governmental organization Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) for help, with some workers claiming that their boss had beaten them.

The blog also said that these men had approached MOM, but that their problem had not been resolved yet.

A TWC2 spokesman said yesterday that three of the workers have since been paid their back wages; the other cases are still pending. MOM is looking into them.

Told about Tan’s remarks that MOM attends to cases within two weeks and resolves the majority in six, the TWC2 spokesman said: “In our experience, cases remain unresolved for a range of reasons, often due to, among other things, the sheer volume of the officers’ caseloads or ambiguities in the law.”

Employment disputes remain small in number, affecting under 0.5 per cent of the foreign workforce.

Acknowledging that foreign workers might be reluctant to step forward out of fear of reprisal, Tan said they can turn to, for example, the Migrant Workers Centre, which can in turn refer their cases to MOM: “The MOM is committed to seek a fair resolution to these issues.” –Melissa Kok – Straits Times

Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.