MWC puts employer on notice for ill-treating its Bangladeshi migrant workers

A group of 20 Bangladeshi workers have claimed that they are owed thousands of dollars in salary arrears each.

(Left to right) Mr Amimul (blue), 46, Mr Hasan Mehedi (horizontal stripes, bald), 46, Mr Saijuddin (checked shirt), 48, Mr Zaman (black and white tee), 46, Mr Kadir (black tee), 47, Mr Safiqul, 37, (bearded, long sleeved), Mr Mohammad Liton (horizontal stripes), 45, Mr Monirul Islam (spectacled), 29. Source: Straits Times

The migrant workers were allegedly threatened

They had told the media as well as the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) that that when they were taken the office of their employer, Mr Shah Jahan of SJH Trading Pte Ltd, soon after they arrived in Singapore. They were then asked to stamp their fingerprint in ink on blank salary vouchers. They claimed that Mr Shah Jahan threatened those who initially refused to do so that he would cancel their work permits. They would then be sent home.

Of course, this was not an option for the migrant workers. To come to Singapore, they had to take loans of around $7,000 per head. As such, they had to pay about $600 every month to clear their loans. Many of them are sole breadwinners. If they were sent home immediately, they would not have the ability to repay their loans.

In the video interview with the Straits Times, Mr Hasan Mehedi, who is claiming $15,910 in unpaid salary and overtime work, said,

“I was coerced. To come to Singapore, I took a bank loan. Every month, I have to repay $600. If this paper was not signed, he would send me back to Bangladesh. That’s why (although it was) blank paper, I stamped and signed it.”

Claims of forged salary vouchers

The workers claimed that Mr Shah Jahan used those vouchers bearing their fingerprints as “proof” that his workers acknowledged receiving their rightful salaries. Some workers also claimed that workers claimed that they stamped their fingerprints on vouchers for small amounts like $50, which Mr Shah Jahan later changed to $1,650, for instance, by adding digits in front.

Mr Shah Jahan disputed those claims. He told the Straits Times:

“I am innocent. They (the workers_) want to condemn my name. If MOM orders me to pay, I will pay.”

MWC is helping the workers with their claims

The Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), a bipartite initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers’ Federation (SNEF) to advocate for better welfare for migrant workers, is helping the workers. They tried to settle the case by going for mediation through the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). But that process failed.

Consequently, MWC has brought the case to the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT). The ECT is part of the Court system. Its decisions are Court orders, which means that the employer HAS to comply with the decisions of the ECT. If the employer doesn’t, he essentially can forget about doing business under that same company name in Singapore.

But the problem runs much deeper

It still isn’t certain if the Mr Shah Jahan really failed to pay the workers their full salaries. The case has not been heard in the ECT yet. But Mr Shah Jahan can’t deny that he is not treating his workers right.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, or if you prefer, late Saturday night, MWC visited two worker dormitories at Geylang Lorong 13 and 17 that housed Mr Shah Jahan’s employees. They found that both dormitories housed more than the number of occupants allowed by URA.

Not only that, MWC found that both dormitories had common areas and sleeping quarters which were unhygienic and filthy, with poor ventilation and circulation, and were infested with roaches and bed-bugs.

The two dormitories also had overuse of electrical points and multi-plug extensions. All the occupants (about 11 to 13 of them) had to share only one toilet and one shower compartment, which in both cases, were unacceptably filthy.

  • Both facilities housed more than the allowed number of occupants, which appear to contravene URA’s maximum occupancy of 8 to a unit;
  • Both facilities had common areas and sleeping quarters which were unhygienic and filthy, with poor ventilation and circulation;
  • At both facilities, there was evidence of roach and bed-bug infestation;
  • Both facilities possessed clear evidence of a disregard for overuse of electrical points and multi-plug extensions;
  • No proper storage was provided for the occupants and personal belongings were strewn all around common areas or any other spaces the workers could find space;
  • No proper laundry and drying facilities were provided and clothes hung from makeshift clothes lines and nails punched into the walls;
  • No proper bedding was provided and many workers slept on the floor in the living quarters as well as the corridors and common living areas;
  • Wash and sanitary facilities were inadequate, with 11-13 occupants in each of the units sharing only one toilet and one shower compartment, which in both cases, were unacceptably filthy.

    As if that’s not bad enough, MWC found that meals for all the workers (about 130 of them) employed by Mr Shah Jahan were being prepared at one of the workers’ dormitories.

    By the time MWC visited the dormitory at just past midnight, there were already 100 packets of the next day’s breakfast and lunch had already been cooked, packed and sorted away for collection. That means that the food had been prepared more than 7-12 hours before they were meant to be consumed.

    MWC putting SHJ Trading on notice

    MWC has said that it is putting the employer on notice. They have accumulated substantial photographic evidence of the company’s failure to provide safe and acceptable accommodation for its workers, in addition to the thoughtless risks the company takes with their meals. The MWC will forward its observations and documentation to the authorities in the coming days and urge stern action against the employer as a clear message of deterrence to other unscrupulous and exploitative employers.

    So, even if Mr Shah Jahan didn’t owe salaries to his employees, he is likely to be punished for failing to provide safe and acceptable accommodation and proper meals for his employees.

    We hope that his punishment will be swift and severe.

    (Featured image from Straits Times)

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