Migrant workers: Long hours, measly salary

National 3 minutes, 57 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

SHE is 820 miles away from home, determined to provide a better life for her children even if it meant working long hours for a measly amount of money.

Martha was promised a monthly salary of $450 as a waitress before she arrived in Brunei more than two years ago.

Her contract also stated she is required to work for eight hours a day and is entitled to two days off in a month.

However, she knew from her siblings’ past employment experiences in Brunei that her employer can change the terms of contract when she starts work.

Martha still decided to hop on the plane to Brunei because she would at least earn more money than stay home with no income.

When she first started at the eatery, she had to work from 8.30am to 8.30pm, longer than the stipulated number of hours in her contract.

Martha was also paid $400 monthly, which did not match what her contract stated.

After working for a considerable period of time, Martha said her employer had asked her to work at the eatery’s main branch from 8.30am to 6pm, and then from 6pm to 10.30pm at the second branch.

Martha said her employer only offers an overtime pay of just $1 a day.

Furthermore, her employer does not provide daily meals. Only accommodation is covered.

Martha is just one of the many migrant workers who is willing to put up with long working hours.

The Labour Force Survey 2014 found that the percentage of persons with excessive hours of work was significantly higher among non-local workers with 61.8 per cent compared to 19.2 per cent among local employees.

According to the survey in 2014, there were 60,700 foreign workers aged 15 and above in Brunei.

Martha’s wages are also far lower than the survey’s average monthly income of $1,374 for non-local workers in all sectors.

Apart from working over 12-hour shifts a day, Martha said for every minute she comes into work late, her employer will insist she replaces those minutes by coming in earlier to work on Sunday.

Her employer also deducts $30 from her monthly salary, initially telling her they were helping her save the money and would return the amount once her contract ended.

Her two-year contract ended, but Martha has yet to see the money that was set aside.

Instead, her employer continued extending her stay until February this year.

“I do not want to ask my boss for the money they said they are keeping for me, because I am holding onto their promise,” she said.

Because of this promise, Martha decided to return to Brunei, hoping to get her money back.

“I just want to be given everything that is rightfully mine. I was supposed to get an hour’s break a day and work eight hours, but I am instead working nine hours at the first shop, and another five and a half hours at the second shop,” she said.

Martha said she was too afraid to approach her embassy here and lodge a complaint because she might also lose her job.

In February 2015, former Philippines Ambassador to Brunei Nestor Ochoa said the embassy had received a lot of complaints from Filipino domestic workers not being paid as to what was agreed on their contracts, while some received their salaries late.

It was reported that Filipino migrant workers in Brunei will be entitled to a minimum salary of US$400 ($520) per month following a new advisory issued by the Philippines Overseas Labour Office last year.

Meanwhile, Indonesian embassy’s counsellor Endy Ghafur Fadyl said they will not approve or renew work contracts that do not meet the minimum wage requirements.

The Indonesian government decided in April last year to raise the monthly minimum wage for Indonesian migrant workers working in Brunei from $250 to $350.

The regulation, which requires a minimum wage of $350 for informal workers, while formal workers’ wages are increased from $16 to $18 for eight working hours.

This was introduced to ensure the welfare of their citizens working abroad.

Meanwhile, a local employer who has been running his business for over two years said employers taking care of their staff’s welfare is as important as any aspect of the business as it reflects back in their work.

The restaurateur, who opted for anonymity, said he has five foreign staff, including Filipinos and Indonesians.

His Filipino staff who are employed as servers receive between $500 to $550 a month. Meanwhile, his Indonesian chefs earn $850 monthly.

Since the opening of his business, two of the five staff are still working with him. Each of them receive one to one and a half of days off a week. All five of his staff are also provided meals during their work service, and are given accommodation.

The Brunei Times