by Daniel Yap
News broke on Channel NewsAsia (CNA) that Zhong Jiang (Singapore) International Pte Ltd, the company at the heart of the crane-top workers’ protest, was fined $8,000 for failing to pay salaries on time.
Minster for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin had posted in Facebook that his ministry’s investigations had shown that the men were not owed any salary arrears, but did not specify the basis on which this was determined other than a lack of paperwork (payslips, specifically).
Last month, ST had reported that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had similarly called the workers’ claims about poor living conditions “false” but MOM came under fire for taking almost a week to inspect the living quarters, allegedly giving the employer ample time to clean up their act.
The $8,000 fine handed out to Zhong Jiang (Singapore) International (owned by a China state-owned construction firm) was for eight counts of late payment of salary, out of 25 counts that the company pleaded guilty to.
The maximum penalty for late payment of salaries (more than seven days after the salary period) is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or six months’ jail. The salary arrears in question, amounting to some $44,000, were between one and three weeks late.
That’s a big sum and one wonders just how many workers, even if the two crame protestors were not among them, had to suffer the tardiness of their employer.
While MOM seems to have plugged the gaping hole of companies not issuing payslips by making amendments to the Employment Act, does it have to come down to drastic action on the part of workers to initiate an investigation? This case as well as the SMRT drivers’ strike were both deemed illegal but have thrown the spotlight on poor company practices and strained employer-employee relations, resulting in investigations, changes to the Employment Act, improved working conditions, living conditions and enhanced awareness of systemic mistreatment of workers both local and foreign.
Perhaps MOM really does need to beef up protection for foreign workers, and the trade unions need to get more involved, after being conspicuously silent on this incident.