NGO for migrant workers shares how employers of foreign workers refuse to comply with court orders to pay up workers

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving conditions for low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, wrote into Straits Times forum, claiming that employers of migrant workers ignore court orders sent to them to pay up salaries that they owe their workers.

Ethan Guo, the General Manager of TWC said that the NGO is unaware of the consequences that an employer will face when they refuse to comply with court orders.

“Migrant workers who have not been paid their salaries or are underpaid are referred to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) when attempts at mediation fail. When the cases conclude in the workers’ favour, many employers do not pay up despite orders by the ECT to do so,” he wrote.

He added, “They workers are appalled that there is so little regard for court orders and no viable method of enforcement. We understand that these debts are viewed as a civil, not criminal, matter.”

Although there are a few ways for debt recovery like writ of seizure, bankruptcy proceedings and sale, but these options are not feasible for migrant workers as they’re costly and time-consuming, Mr Guo said.

In fact, a pro bono lawyer that TWC2 consulted stated that the main problem here is that “enforcement mechanisms do not come with any assurance that one will get any money at the end of the process.”

Citing a recent case that the organisation encountered, Mr Guo explained that the particular employer revealed that he “had no intention of complying with tribunal’s order” although the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority noted that his company is still operating.

If that’s not bad enough, another employer did not even bother to be at the ECT and became unreachable, the General Manager said.

As such, Mr Guo said that the “Ministry of Manpower’s assistance to workers facing such circumstances does little to mitigate their plight.”

He explained that migrant workers don’t receive their salary when errant employers are prosecuted. Moreover, insurance or ex-gratia payouts do not even come half to the owed amounts, and these workers are also not guaranteed a new employment.

As such, the General Manager said that it is “alarming injustice” for foreign workers to be denied their salaries even after winning their case at the ECT.

Refuting such claims, MOM said in a statement made in May this year that it “takes strong enforcement actions against willful employers who do not pay their workers’ salaries.” The Ministry pointed out that between 2016 and 2018, a total of 151 employers were prosecuted for offences under the Employment Act.

But, it noted that “MOM does not intend to criminalise all such cases, especially in cases where employers cannot pay owning to business failures.”

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Fitch downgrades Hong Kong citing protests and China fears

Hong Kong’s reputation as a dependable financial hub took a hit on Friday after Fitch downgraded the city’s sovereign rating, citing ongoing protests and uncertainty caused by closer integration with the Chinese mainland.

Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong’s streets for the past three months in the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997.

The sometimes violent protests have heaped pressure on Hong Kong’s economy, which had already been under pressure from the US-China trade war.

In a statement on Friday, Fitch announced it was downgrading the city as an issuer of long-term foreign currency debt from an AA+ rating to AA with a negative outlook.

Bloomberg News reported that it is the first time the credit rating agency has made such a move since 1995, a period when uncertainty had spiked over Hong Kong’s handover to China.

“Ongoing events have… inflicted long-lasting damage to international perceptions of the quality and effectiveness of Hong Kong’s governance system and rule of law, and have called into question the stability and dynamism of its business environment,” Fitch said.

“The gradual rise in Hong Kong’s economic, financial, and socio-political linkages with the mainland implies its continued integration into China’s national governance system, which will present greater institutional and regulatory challenges over time.”

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index brushed off the news, ending Friday 0.66 percent higher.

The unprecedented protests in the semi-autonomous hub were sparked by a proposed law allowing extraditions to the authoritarian mainland.

Opponents saw it as the latest move by Beijing to chip away at the city’s unique freedoms, such as its independent judicial system.

But as Beijing and city leader Carrie Lam refused to budge, the movement morphed into a broader campaign calling for democratic reforms and police accountability.

Too little, too late

Lam — who was appointed by a pro-Beijing committee and has the lowest approval ratings of any post-handover leader — said she disagreed with the downgrade and blamed protesters for damaging the city’s economy.

“To every person who cares about Hong Kong, to every person who treats Hong Kong as their homes, we should stop the violence immediately,” she told reporters during a visit to the mainland.

The Hong Kong government has also run full-page ads in some major overseas newspapers, including the Financial Times on Friday, in a bid to reassure the international business community about the city’s financial and political stability.

“Despite recent disruptions, the fundamentals and institutional underpinning of our economy and society are strong,” the ad read. “We remain a safe, open, welcoming and cosmopolitan society and an internationally connected, vibrant and dynamic economy.”

Opponents blame her administration for the economic troubles.

For months, Lam has struck a defiant tone and refused to yield to protesters.

But on Wednesday, she surprised many by announcing she was scrapping the hugely unpopular extradition law.

But protesters across the spectrum dismissed the gesture as too little, too late.

Further demonstrations are expected in the coming days — including fresh plans on Saturday to disrupt transport links to the city’s airport, a major international aviation hub.

Protesters are also planning to get out large crowds on October 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Among the demands issued by protesters is an amnesty for those arrested, an inquiry into the police and universal suffrage, all of which Lam has rejected.


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Merkel in Beijing says Hong Kong freedoms must be ‘guaranteed’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong “must be guaranteed” after meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing.

Hong Kong has been plunged into months of pro-democracy protests, and ahead of her three-day visit to China this week demonstrators in the semi-autonomous city appealed to the German chancellor to support them in her meetings with China’s leadership.

Merkel said she had discussed tensions in the former British colony, and civil rights there, with her hosts and had “pointed out that these rights and freedoms must of course be guaranteed”.

“In the current situation everything must be done to avoid violence,” Merkel said at a joint press conference with Li, as seen in video footage published by German media.

“And the solutions can only be found in a political process — meaning through dialogue.”

Merkel arrived in China on Thursday with a large business delegation in tow.

The companies travelling with Merkel include Volkswagen, Allianz and Deutsche Bank according to the German daily Bild, which carried a headline Friday that read: “Do our companies not care about Hong Kong’s freedom?”

Diplomatic farce

Press access to her visit was unusually tight, with a number of members of the Beijing foreign press corps, including AFP, unable to get accreditation for the event.

Chinese officials blamed a lack of space due to a large contingent of journalists accompanying Merkel.

In a statement, the German Federation of Journalists criticised the limited access as a “diplomatic farce”.

“What image do the organisers have of the travelling German press? Did they think that the chancellor of Germany is coming with her courtiers, who politely listen, ask no questions and report meekly?” it said.

Merkel also met Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday evening, according to state news agency Xinhua, and the two leaders were scheduled to have dinner together.

The German leader is also due to give a speech to university students in the central city of Wuhan on Saturday.

Ahead of her trip, prominent Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong and others had recalled in an open letter published by Bild on Wednesday that Merkel grew up in the communist police state of East Germany.

“You have first-hand experience of the terrors of a dictatorial government,” the letter read.

“We hope that you will express your concern about our catastrophic situation and that you will convey our demands to the Chinese government during your stay in China.”

Business ties

Hong Kong has endured dozens of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests triggered by opposition to a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China.

In their open letter, the protesters also warned that “Germany should be on its guard before doing business with China, as China does not comply with international law and has repeatedly broken its promises”.

A number of Chinese dissidents have been given refuge in Germany, including artist Ai Weiwei.

In May, two former Hong Kong independence activists were granted refugee status in Germany in what is one of the first cases of dissenters from the semi-autonomous Chinese city receiving such protection.

On a visit to China last year, Merkel met with the wife of a Chinese human rights lawyer charged with state subversion, an extremely rare meeting between a dissident and a visiting head of state.

The trip marks her 12th visit to China as chancellor.

Xinhua said in a commentary on Friday that Merkel’s visit came as “productive cooperation between the world’s two major economies is much needed against the backdrop of global uncertainties”.

The agency said China accounted for the largest share of imports into Germany in 2018 with goods worth 106.2 billion euros ($117.4 billion).


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1 Bargain Dividend Payer to Boost Your TFSA

Piggy bank next to a financial report

Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) investors should take note of Transcontinental (TSX:TCL.A)(TSX:TCL.B). The stock issues close to a 6% dividend yield at the current stock price of under $16.

Granted, Transcontinental lost 50% of its market value in the past year, but the stock was merely experiencing a downward correction from a bubble, which hit its peak in August 2018. Now that the price has normalized at below $16 per share, TFSA investors should consider taking advantage of the high-dividend yield of this profitable stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Here are some factors to consider before committing to the investment.

Low institutional ownership

The general public owns the majority of Transcontinental stock at just under 50% of the shares. Meanwhile, institutional investors own about 40% of the stock. There may be some benefits and drawbacks to this ownership structure.

For one, institutional investors should have more comprehensive information about the true value of a stock then the general public. Thus, low institutional ownership may indicate that the stock is not the best investment.

However, high public ownership means that the company has received decent reviews from ordinary investors like aspiring retirees. These ordinary investors give a vote of confidence to the organization’s leaders.

Low volume

Volume is an indication of price change. When a stock price is moving in either a positive or negative direction, the volume will increase. Low volume means that the stock price may be reasonably stable. Stable stock prices are great for TFSA investors who prioritize liquidity.

Transcontinental is a large company with a market cap greater than $1 billion and earnings per share (EPS) between $1 to $2 annually. The stock trades at an average volume of just under 300,000 shares per day.

TSX stocks with a market capitalization of under $2 billion and EPS between $1 to $2 per year usually have an average volume of around 60,000 shares per day. Therefore, Transcontinental’s volume is healthy and active compared to its peers.

Relative to top TSX stocks, however, Transcontinental’s volume is rather low. To put this low level of volume into perspective, top TSX stocks often trade at quantities of over 84 million shares per day.

Transcontinental’s focus on manufacturing

Printing is “out” for Transcontinental and production of packaging is “in.” The company is transitioning from printing services to manufacturing flexible packaging, including plastic rollstock and shrink films.

In 2018, Transcontinental acquired the packaging company, Coveris Americas. Since then, the company has been focusing on improving its profit margins. It is still too early in the transition to determine how packaging will genuinely affect the company’s bottom line, but one thing is sure: this global business is on its way up.

Foolish takeaway

TFSA investors should take into account several factors before deciding to invest in a stock. Volume and institutional ownership are two measures of a stock’s popularity and attractiveness. But even low institutional ownership and volume are not substantial reasons to avoid a stock.

There are benefits and drawbacks to every ownership structure, and low volume can be a positive sign in a bear market selloff. Overall, Transcontinental is a profitable company with a spectacular dividend yield. Despite the risks, TFSA investors should undoubtedly consider adding the stock to their portfolio.

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Lawrence Wong: Funding up to S$100b to combat climate change could be gathered from borrowing, ministry budgets and reserves

On Tuesday (3 September), Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong revealed in Parliament that it would be possible for the Government to fund S$100 billion needed for climate change measures by using a combination of borrowing, ministry budgets and reserves.

“We will need a combination of funding methods to finance the various climate change adaption measures,” Mr Wong said.

Mr Wong made this announcement after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised the issue of climate change in his National Day Rally speech this year. PM Lee noted that it was “one of the gravest challenges facing humankind” and acknowledged that Singapore is experiencing the impact of global warming already, warming twice as fast than the global average.

PM Lee also pointed out in his speech that Singapore would need at least S$100 billion or more to tackle the issue of climate change and rising sea levels effectively, and that a budget will be put aside for that.

Some of the measures mentioned include adding one more pump house at Marina Barrage, regaining offshore islands on the eastern coast of Singapore and producing polders.

Breaking down how the funding will be generated, Mr Wong explained that “smaller-scale infrastructure such as localised flood barriers for public assets, such as hospitals and bus depots, can be funded from the budgets of ministries.”

He added, “For long-lived major infrastructure such as sea walls, the Government will look to the option of borrowing to spread the cost across the generations which will benefit. Where the measures include land reclamation, the land reclamation costs can already be met from past reserves.”

The Minister said this in response to a question raised by Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira on how much money from the reserves will be used to fund the measures.

Mr Wong, who is also National Development Minister, stressed that using past reserves to finance reclamation costs is in line with the Reserves Protection Framework, adding that this is something that is agreed between the President and Government.

“The land created through reclamation will be protected as part of past reserves, and when such land is subsequently sold, the proceeds accrue fully to past reserves. So the reclamation of land is in essence a conversion of past reserves – from financial assets to state land, and the use is not a draw on past reserves,” he noted.

Based on the Supply Bill that is debated and approved in Parliament annually, Mr Wong said that the Government will be seeking approval for development expenditure, and it will furnish the President with a statement on land-related expenditures each year.

“The Ministry of Finance will continue to study equitable and sustainable ways to finance the full suite of climate adaptation measure we need to protect our island,” he said.

Upon hearing this, Associate Professor Theseira then went on further to ask if it was the commitment that “in all such cases the cost of land reclamation will be coming from past reserves without the draw down or requirement to raise taxes currently” or if it will be flexible, as to what the finance minister says at that time.

“As I’ve said just now, the Reserves Protection Framework already allow the Government to use the past reserves for all land reclamation projects. That is already the case today, and that is the basis for which we operate currently,” he replied.

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