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MOM's take: Workplace harassment, WPH salary claims, and casual workers

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Low Yen Ling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (SPS) for Manpower, and Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for Manpower answered a series of questions in Singapore's Parliament yesterday (8 May), relating to workplace harassment guidelines, salary claims, and assessment of casual workers.

The first series was raised by Assoc Prof Walter Theseira who asked if there are plans to monitor the number of employers who have adopted measures in the Tripartite Advisory for Managing Workplace Harassment.

To this, SPS Low responded that such advisories are meant to provide guidance for employers and employees, and not for tracking how many companies implement the measures suggested.

However, in cases where complaints of workplace harassment are raised, MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices) will assess the employer's grievance handling procedure as well as measures undertaken from the advisory.

"If the employer failed to address a workplace harassment case fairly, TAFEP would advise the employer to review the case again," she clarified. She added that TAFEP would also engage the employer to put in place the proper measures. For egregious cases, MOM will take action against the company, including curtailing work passes.

ALSO READ: 29% will quit if employers do not take steps to address sexual harassment

As for other measures taken on this topic, she highlighted that TAFEP would set up a centre for workplace harassment, as well as individuals who face harassment at the workplace should contact TAFEP for assistance. If the facts suggest that an offence under the Penal Code or the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) is committed, TAFEP will refer them to the Police or the Courts.

Another topic raised for discussion was by MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang on the status on salary claims by non-Malaysian Work Pass Holders (WPHs), responded to by Minister Zaqy.

He provided the facts for discussion: "In the last five years, the Labour Court and the Employment Claims Tribunals issued an average of 130 money orders per year for salary claims involving non-Malaysian Work Permit Holders.

"In most cases, affected workers received full payments from their employers or settlement payments through insurers. In about 10% of the cases, the Migrant Workers’ Centre stepped in to provide assistance to the workers via the Migrant Workers’ Assistance Fund (MWAF)."

Minister Zaqy also clarified that employers are required to furnish a security bond (SB) for non-Malaysian WPHs. Given this, in the last five years, the Government forfeited an average of 150 SBs annually for workers with salary claims due to reasons such as non-payment of salary or failure to repatriate the workers.

He urged all workers, local or foreign, to come forward when they face salary issues. "The evidence shows clearly that early reporting greatly improves the chances of recovering the owed salaries fully from the employers," he said.

Finally, given the rise of the gig economy which was also a topic of debate in the Ministry of Manpower's recent Committee of Supply 2019, NMP Anthea Ong raised queries on assessment of legal protection for casual workers, with the view of developing a new framework.

To this, Minister Zaqy noted that these workers make up a small and declining share of the workforce, constituting 3.4% of resident employees in 2018 - down from 5.1% in 2009.

Even so, he stressed that all employees, including casual workers, are covered by various legislation such as the Employment Act and Central Provident Fund (CPF) Act. As such, they are also entitled to timely salary payments, CPF and protection against wrongful dismissal, just like regular employees. Further, if they have been employed for at least three months, they are entitled to paid annual and sick leave.

He added: "Other jurisdictions might have seen an increase in the number of self-employed persons (SEPs) engaging in casual work. In Singapore, we cannot equate SEPs with casual workers. For example, taxi drivers are self-employed but work regular shifts.

"Nonetheless, the proportion of SEPs who did self-employed work as their main job has remained stable at 8% to 10% of our resident workforce over the past decade." He also noted that many SEPs choose to be self-employed for greater flexibility and autonomy."

He went on to explain that the Ministry had convened a Tripartite Workgroup on SEPs in 2017, which consulted extensively with SEPs and other relevant stakeholders, from which recommendations are being "systematically implemented".

He detailed them as follows:

  • Firstly, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management launched its voluntary mediation services last year, to help resolve disputes involving SEPs. The tripartite partners are also encourage the adoption of the Tripartite Standard on Contracting with SEPs.
  • Secondly, prolonged medical leave insurance products were made available for SEPs.
  • Thirdly, MOM is working with tripartite partners and SEP associations to ensure access to both technical and non-technical skills training are accessible by SEPs.
  • Lastly, a "Contribute-as-you-earn" model will be introduced to make it easier for SEPs to save for healthcare needs. The government will take the lead in piloting this model next year.

Photo / 123RF

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