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Taking errant bosses to task

By: Xieli Lee, Singapore
Published: Oct 29, 2008

Singapore - While employers who fail to pay their staff on time due to debts can be legally punished, it may not be financially viable for the affected worker to seek due compensation.

Even though there are legal channels for distressed employees to seek owed wages from errant bosses, they would need to spend more time and money to force former employers to pay up. Former legal practitioner and CEO of job portal Breezeto5.com, Malcolm Tan says the disgruntled employee should first make a complaint to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) within one year of the event taking place as it is the cheapest method to handle the dispute.

However, if the employee wishes to see a faster resolution, Tan recommends taking civil action as an alternative. "He should go to the Small Claims Tribunal at the Subordinate Courts on Havelock Road and for a nominal fee, he will be able to bring up a case against the employer."

Yet possible issues may arise if civil action is taken, as small claims can be at most $10,000. Tan says, "He usually won't be able to recover the full sum. Anything over $10,000 will have to go through lawyers or he can represent himself but [that action is] not to be recommended for most people."

Even if the employee obtains a paper judgment against the errant company, he or she may not be able to force the company to pay up, as legal enforcement will cost an additional $1,000 to $2,000. Unfortunately, that is the maximum the employee can do, says Tan, "because his claim is not over 10k, which is what's required to make the employer bankrupt."

According to a MOM spokesperson, the ministry will convene an inquiry in the presence of both parties as long as the employees are covered by the Employment Act and have statutory and/or contractual claims against their employers. "If the employees have substantiated claims against their employers, the latter will be ordered to make payments."

The spokesperson further reminds employers to pay salaries within seven days from the end of the salary period as required by law. "Failure to pay salary is an offence. Employers who do not comply with the Employment Act, including paying salaries promptly, may be taken to task."

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