The Chinese migrant workers at Panasonic’s Singapore plant are at the end of their rope. After attempts to discuss and negotiate with management failed, the men and women have decided to send in a petition to draw attention to their grievances.
Panasonic, a multi-national corporation dealing mainly in electronics manufacturing, posted an operating profit of S$618.99 million (USD493.67 million) in the first quarter of 2012. It has its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, along with sales, logistics, manufacturing, R&D, trading and supply divisions. The workers involved in the petition are from Panasonic Refrigeration Devices Singapore Pte Ltd (PRDS), one of the manufacturing divisions.
The petition, originally written in Chinese, highlights the workers’ plight: with a basic pay of S$500 (approx. USD399) a month, many are forced to work overtime (often beyond the legal limit of 72 hours) to earn a decent wage.
But many of these workers have actually paid up to S$6000 (approx. USD4786) each to the employment agency to be brought to Singapore to work for Panasonic. According to Singapore’s Employment Agencies Act, it is illegal to charge so much money for a work placement. The Act states that an employment agency can only charge two months’ basic salary for a two-year work permit; in this case the agency has charged up to six times that amount.
The workers are now questioning Panasonic working with such an employment agency. “As a leading MNC in the electronics industry, we are concerned that the company has engaged an employment agency which exploits our vulnerability and ignorance of Singapore’s laws,” reads the English version of the petition.
Other issues include the lack of advance notice for overtime work, and the fact that Panasonic does not allow the workers to keep a copy of their own employment contracts. The workers say that the management at Panasonic has so far been dismissive of the workers’ concerns.
The petition, addressed to Managing Director of Panasonic Asia Pacific Yorihisa Shiokawa, has already been signed by 118 workers. Others are also encouraged to email Panasonic Asia Pacific to urge them to look into the issues raised and take steps to improve employment practices.
When contacted, a member of PRDS’ human resources team said that there was a “little problem” with the migrant workers, but referred questions to the head office at Panasonic Asia Pacific. Panasonic Asia Pacific could not be contacted at the time of writing.
Two of the workers have also complained to the Ministory of Manpower about the excessive agent fees, and are currently waiting for a response.