Janice Heng – Straits Times
Singapore. The Ministry of Manpower is proposing swifter punishment, higher fines and longer jail terms for bosses who break the law in employing foreign workers.
As foreign-labor policies are tightened, the MOM said yesterday that employers could be tempted to get around the rules, and potentially hire more foreign workers than allowed.
This reduces job opportunities for Singaporeans and gives errant businesses an unfair advantage, it added. It also wants powers to forcibly enter and search company premises if it suspects wrongdoing.
Foreign workers, who make up about 36 percent of Singapore’s labor force, will also not get off lightly if they flout the law, according to MOM statements.
The ministry is now seeking public feedback on the proposed changes to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. The plan to toughen the Act was first announced by Minister of State (Manpower) Tan Chuan-Jin in March.
MOM wants to raise penalties and introduce minimum fines for some offenses. For instance, illegally employing foreign workers will incur a minimum fine of $5,000.
There is no minimum fine at the moment, while the maximum fine may double from $15,000 to $30,000.
All infringements of the Act are now deemed as criminal offenses, but MOM plans to reclassify some less-serious offenses as regulatory breaches.
These do not require prosecution in court, so action can be taken more quickly. The proposed maximum penalty is $20,000 per breach, said MOM, which added that other moves — such as barring employers from getting work passes — may suffice as deterrents.
The ministry also proposes to make some offenses, which are now lumped under offenses of a more general type, stand-alone infringements.
One such offense is making CPF contributions to “phantom” local workers to artificially boost the number of home-grown staff, in order to be eligible to hire more foreigners. This will be a regulatory breach, subject to the standard $20,000 maximum penalty.
Another is receiving kickbacks or bribes from foreign workers to get employed. It will be a criminal offense subject to a fine of up to $30,000, a jail term of up to 24 months, or both.
Foreign workers will also face heavier penalties. Working without a valid work pass may be raised to a fine of up to $20,000, up to 24 months in jail, or both. It is now a fine of up to $5,000, up to 12 months in jail, or both.
Migrant-worker welfare groups applauded the decision to crack down on kickbacks in particular.
“Kickbacks lead to a lot of exploitation,” said Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, vice-president of Transient Workers Count Too. Tougher kickback penalties were one of the suggestions that the group made to MOM last June.
Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home), said the move was good but hoped more could be done. The changes are on the whole “quite lopsided as the focus is on penalties, rather than the welfare of workers,” he said.
Both groups intend to submit recommendations to MOM. Among other things, Home will call for specific definitions of terms such as “adequate accommodation” for workers and improved medical coverage.
Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam, who had raised worries about errant employers during the Budget debate, said the review is timely.
“The proposed improvements to the Act should not be taken as being targeted against employers but to ensure that workers get a fair deal,” he said.
A public consultation document with the proposed changes will remain on the Reach website till May 31.
Reprinted Courtesy of Straits Times