Itemised payslips are an essential tool in combating salary abuse against migrant workers but will not be enough, says Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).

Rules that create audit trails and that reduce an employer's leverage over a work permit holder must also exist in parallel, the advocacy group said in a statement yesterday. "TWC2 wishes to reiterate our longstanding position that itemised payslips alone will not be sufficient to address the problem of incorrect and underpayment of salaries," said TWC2, which also described itemised payslips as a step in the right direction.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Monday that it plans to make itemised payslips compulsory within the next two years, and has issued guidelines to prepare employers for the change.

TWC2 said it would prefer that the compliance deadline be moved earlier for medium-sized and larger companies, such as within six months for those who employ more than 20 workers. "Such companies should already have the resources to issue itemised payslips," the group said. TWC2 asserted that itemised payslips alone will not stop salary abuse.

Some employers can circumvent the rules by paying in cash less than the amount stated on the payslip, for example. Some could deduct fake repayments of "advance loans" or demand that workers withdraw cash from banked-in salaries to repay their bosses as kickbacks.

To counter those tactics, TWC2 argued that it should also be mandatory for salaries or advance loans to be made through bank giro or bank cheques in order to create an audit trail. Work permit holders should also be given up to 60 days to seek alternative employment after leaving one job, so that employees do not have to fear immediate repatriation if they resist wrongful demands from their employers.

The itemised payslip guidelines have generally been welcomed by industry stakeholders. Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) president Kurt Wee said on Monday that greater clarity and transparency would benefit employers as well. He expected SMEs to be ready within 12-18 months.