The system was put in place for the purpose of protecting these workers by cutting down paperwork and the involvement of lawyers.
But the TWC2 study found that “significant obstacles and uneven enforcement” prevent migrant workers from getting justice.
The study cited the example of compulsory mediation which takes place before a complaint is formally heard by an assistant commissioner of labour.
TWC2 said that this mediation process “fails to take into consideration the unequal bargaining power of workers vis-à-vis employers”.
As a result, the unequal state can result in migrant workers being coerced by employers to sign documents and accept unfair employment terms.
The NGO added that the claims process is also problematic in evidence gathering and enforcement.
“Workers lack access to the evidence required to substantiate their claims, while employers are accused of manipulating evidence to their advantage.”
During the claims process, TWC2 said that employers could retaliate and violate laws by means of blackmail, restriction of movement, and forcibly sending workers home, among other things.
TWC2’s 104-page report is based on interviews with 157 migrant workers conducted in soup kitchens and shelters run by NGOs helping foreign workers. A
All had brought their claims to the Labour Court, mostly for salary arrears and work injury compensation.
Since April this year, employment disputes like salary claims are heard by the new Employment Claims Tribunal which comes under the State Courts.
But as with the Labour Court system, claims must go for mediation before going to the tribunal.
Mediation is done at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, a separate body set up by the ministry, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation.
Meanwhile, the Labour Court continues to hear work injury compensation claims.