Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is investigating local conglomerate Keppel Shipyard and one of its sub-contractors for the non-payment of some 120 workers, who nearly went on strike last month.
The Migrant Workers’ Centre reportedly said it stepped in to convince the 100 Bangladeshi and 20 Indian shipyard workers not to go on strike in January, after they said their employer, Akash Engineering and Technology, had not paid them salaries for as long as three and a half months.
Keppel is also being investigated by MOM because it may have infringed its responsibilities as a sponsoring shipyard under Singapore’s marine sector scheme, the ministry said. Meanwhile, Akash is being probed for possible breaches of the Employment Act.
Noting that Akash is Keppel’s resident contractor, which means it only does work for Keppel, MOM said Keppel is still expected to extend the same level of care for Akash’s employees as it would for its direct staff.
This, in turn, means that Keppel has an obligation to ensure that Akash complies with prevailing laws and regulations, even if it calls for them to step in to pay the salaries of the latter’s employees, added the ministry.
According to a report in The Straits Times, Keppel said it had “made every effort possible” to help Akash once it found out about “difficulties” the company faced.
A spokesperson for the Singapore-listed company said they had even made early payments to Akash, but claimed the latter “did not inform (Keppel) of the full extent of the financial difficulties which they were facing”.
“We have since co-operated fully with the MOM in assuring the workers that Akash Engineering from henceforth will pay their salaries in a timely manner,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
In ST’s previous report on the impending shipyard workers’ strike, a representative for Akash was quoted as saying that “only some payment was outstanding”, and that he did not see any issues because “everything (had) been sorted out”.
He also reportedly claimed that the company was not in any financial trouble.
The last strike that took place was in late November 2012, when more than 170 SMRT bus drivers from China stayed in their dormitories and would not report for work, in protest against unequal pay and poor living conditions. Five of the drivers were charged, jailed and deported, with a further 29 being deported and another 150 issued police warnings for their involvement.
The last legal strike that occurred in Singapore was in January 1986, when then-President Ong Teng Cheong officially sanctioned for a group of shipyard workers because he felt that their management was taking advantage of them.