Q: My employer owes me several months' worth of salary and says he cannot afford to pay me yet because business is really bad due to Covid-19. What should I do?
Employers should not act unilaterally and use financial difficulties as an excuse not to pay salaries while expecting staff to continue working: MOM Spokesperson
A: Under the Employment Act, your employer must pay your salary within seven days after the end of a salary period, which cannot be longer than one month.
For overtime work, salary must be paid within 14 days after the end of a salary period.
The Act covers local and foreign employees except seafarers, domestic workers, statutory board employees and civil servants.
Ms Celeste Ang, a principal at law firm Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow, says that if Covid-19 financial support is insufficient and an employer is truly facing financial challenges, employees who have not been paid their wages should actively engage with their employers and unions (if applicable) on payment of outstanding salaries.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) notes that if the business is in difficulty, the employer should explain and seek its staff's understanding.
If wage cuts are needed, the employer should lead by example and explain to employees why wage sacrifices are necessary in order to save jobs. However, employers should not act unilaterally and use financial difficulties as an excuse not to pay salaries while expecting staff to continue working, says the spokesman.
Employees who still do not receive their salaries after discussing it with their employers should report non-payment of salary to the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) as soon as possible.
You can file a salary-related claim for up to $20,000 per claim, or up to $30,000 per claim if you are a union member assisted by your union.
The non-refundable registration fees are $10 per claim if you are claiming up to $10,000, and $20 per claim if you are claiming more than $10,000.
Note that there is a deadline - if you are still employed by the company, you must file the claim within one year after the dispute arose; if you have left the company, file within six months after your last day of employment. You can claim for owed salaries only from up to one year before the date of filing.
In the light of Covid-19, TADM has shifted its face-to-face mediation and advisory services to phone and online platforms, which help to minimise the need for in-person meetings.
MOM's spokesman says employees are encouraged to file claims as soon as possible, as early reporting prevents salary arrears from snowballing and improves their chances of recovering them.
In the financial year that ended on March 31 last year, TADM recovered some $15 million in salaries owed to employees here, with about 90 per cent of employees who filed claims fully recovering their salaries.
If your company is under bankruptcy, judicial management or liquidation, the claim should not be filed with TADM but instead filed directly with the Insolvency Office or the appointed judicial manager or liquidator.
Ms Ang adds that as a matter of last resort, employees can seek relief before the Employment Claims Tribunal or the civil courts depending on, among other factors, the quantum of the claim.
The filing fees for the Employment Claims Tribunal are below $100, but the filing fees in court plus the costs to maintain the action in court are much more substantial, she says.
Lodging a complaint about your employer should not affect your reputation or hinder your future job search, as employees who seek to enforce their right to be paid are acting reasonably, says the MOM spokesman.
The vast majority of prospective employers are discerning and will not view a worker who has lodged a claim with TADM negatively, she adds.
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.