Going Home Empty-Handed

Sometime in August this year, Liu, a Chinese worker, walked into HealthServe looking lost and perplexed. He had just come from his first conciliation session at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) during which his employer’s representative fished out a document written in English which claimed his pay to be $4.50 per hour. A far cry from the $7 per hour he was promised.

All he had were scanty photocopies of his work cards on tattered pieces of paper documenting the hours he worked – they were all that the company allowed their workers to carry as documentation of the work done. His company kept the only available copy of his contract and the records of salary payments. At the conciliation, the MOM officer made clear to him that the onus was on him to produce the proof that he was paid $7 an hour. Never mind that the company kept all the records.

Shortly after that first session, Liu came by Geylang with his tools and luggage. His foreman, unhappy that he was pursuing his wage claims relentlessly, had asked someone to dispose of his belongings at a garbage dumpster. Liu became “homeless” and relied on the goodwill of friends to house him.

Stranded in Singapore due to a salary case and not allowed under the law to work in the meantime, Liu had little choice but to rely on HealthServe to provide his meals and cover some of his living expenses.

Liu thought he finally got what was due him when the labour court ruled in his favour. His employer was given two weeks to pay up and buy him an air ticket back to China. His “victory” was, however, short-lived – he never got the $5,000 before he flew home. His employer did not pay up despite the deadline given to him by MOM. His case was then swiftly wrapped up and he was asked to consider a civil suit by the authorities.

Liu has since left the execution of a Writ of Seizure to a pro-bono lawyer. But it remains to be seen if he will ever see the amount owed. A sum of money that he had laboured so hard for and was rightfully his. 

-Jevon Ng

Jevon Ng was a volunteer case worker. He now volunteers at our Tai Seng centre, conducting computer classes to South Asian workers.

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