According to a study conducted by a local non-governmental organisation in Singapore, it revealed gaps in the labour court system preventing migrant workers from getting justice.
The Labour Court, part of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), hears employment-related complaints such as disputes over salary, dismissal and paid leave. The hearings are held behind closed doors and lawyers are not allowed to represent workers or employers. It costs workers $3 to take their complaints to the Labour Court.
While the system is meant to be low-cost and speedy cutting down need for extra paperwork and addressing claims of workers quickly, the Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) study found significant obstacles and even enforcement leading to worker protection and rights falling through the cracks in a system established primarily to protect them.
Citing the example of compulsory mediation in its report, which takes place before a complaint is formally heard by an assistant commissioner of labour – it said the mediation process, fails to take into consideration the unequal bargaining power of workers vis-à-vis employers.
This unequal state can result in migrant workers being coerced by employers to sign documents and accept unfair employment terms. The claims process is also further problematic in evidence gathering and enforcement. Workers lack access to the evidence required to substantiate their claims, while employers are accused of manipulating evidence to their advantage.
Also errant employer behaviour includes violation of the law and retaliation during the claims process. Among other things, they use threats, try to blackmail, restrict movements and even forcibly send the workers home in case they choose to take further actions against injustice by the employer.
Several measures were suggested in the report to improve on the labour court system, they being:
The 104-page report is based on interviews with 157 migrant workers conducted in soup kitchens and shelters run by NGOs helping foreign workers. All had brought their claims to the Labour Court, mostly for salary arrears and work injury compensation, Straits Times reports.
Most of the workers (94 of the 157 interviewed) were from Bangladesh. About two in three of those interviewed were construction workers.