Unpaid employees have rights too


It is both demotivating and depressing when wages are not paid on time. When caught in such a situation, does one dig their heels in or resort to more drastic but justified action?

One Kuala Lumpur graduate architect related her experience and said, “Several months ago, my boss failed to pay my wages for two months, and said the company was experiencing financial problems. It was difficult to gauge his sincerity, as he drove to work in a new 4WD.

“Last May, he claimed that the firm was again short of funds. My March and April salaries remained unpaid, and this dragged on until August.”

The graduate was initially sympathetic of her boss’ cash flow problems, and said, “I thought that the work I was doing, and the amount of experience I was gaining, was worth my financial uncertainty. In August, my boss said that the firm had no money, but I discovered that he had visited London twice.

“When he told me to attend a site meeting, I said that I was unwilling to do any extra unpaid work. I said that I would report him to the Labour Department, unless he banked-in my unpaid wages.”

She claimed that her former employer taunted her and even dared her to report him. She called his bluff, and in the end he was summoned to attend court.

So, are you a victim of unpaid wages? Should you resign? Is it better to leave, or slog it out because you want your CV to look good?

Throughout Malaysia, many employers take advantage of their employees’ naïvety, lack of experience and lack of knowledge of their rights. Many people are unaware that under Act 265 of the Employment Act 1955, the employer must pay the wages of their staff within seven days of the usual pay day.

When this graduate started work, three-and-half-years ago, the company had seven employees. Towards the end, poor management and lack of financial control meant she was the only employee remaining with her boss.

She said, “When he paid me late, the cheques and payment slips were always back-dated, so on record it looked as though I had been paid on time.”

Last month, after the graduate’s former employer received a summons, he frantically called her to “settle” the issue but she told him, “We can talk, in court.”

When she attended the hearing, she found that a cheque had been paid to the Labour Department, the day before, to settle her unpaid wages.

Her advice to graduates and other employees is to make a stand and refuse to be bullied. She said, “I had had enough and lodged a report at the labour office. I did some research online, first, and found out about the Jabatan Tenaga Rakyat and the kind of complaints they accepted.

“I was reluctant to go to court, because I thought I would need a lawyer and I couldn’t afford one. I think most people have this misconception, too.

“I was filled with hope, when friends advised me to seek legal redress and another friend successfully settled his case in the small claims court.

“I won my case. My message to employees is to recognise your self-worth and to know your rights. My message to employers is to act with integrity, show respect to your employees, and to know the law.”

“Employers, like my former boss should be fined and a public record made, so that others are aware. If an employer has a right to know about an employee’s criminal record, prospective employees should be able to check if a company has a dodgy past.

“It is unfair that my former boss is able to continue his business, and not face any repercussions. He is able to employ other workers and play the same trick on them.

“As for the law, I have not been able to find anything about the penalties for non-payment of wages, but I know that it is one of the most common complaints that the Jabatan Tenaga Kerja receives.”

Would you like to share your experience of being unpaid?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.