Contractor Ke Koon Seng (right, pic from the Straits Times) was fined just S$5,000 for taking money from foreign workers for giving them jobs.
This is totally insufficient. It is all the more ridiculous when the prosecution itself called for a jail term.
The Straits Times (16 Sept 2009, Kickbacks for hiring: first boss penalised) reported:
The prosecution had argued for a jail term as it said the practice of receiving kickbacks was ‘abhorrent’ because it increased the debt burden of foreign workers.
‘These foreign employees are effectively compelled to work longer to recoup the payments they have made,’ said prosecutor R. Manoj from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
However, District Judge Christopher Goh was not convinced, and said a jail term was not necessary while imposing the fine.
Ke had pleaded guilty last month to deducting $300 from a Bangladeshi worker’s $1,009 salary for the month of July last year as a condition for having employed him
Investigations revealed that Ke had made three earlier deductions amounting to $1,500 from the foreign worker’s monthly salary.
What the report does not say is whether he was ordered to make restitution to the worker involved. Neither do I believe that the problem was confined to one worker. That being the case, do I even think the $5,000 fine exceeded what he had earned from the illegal scheme?
At a forum held at Sinema last Sunday, following the screening of films showing the way foreign workers in Singapore and Malaysia are abused, one of the panellists said a critical factor is the way workers have to pay upfront fees of S$8,000 to S$9,000 to land a job — something that Yawning Bread has said a few times previously. These workers often have to sell the farm to raise this kind of money or borrow from loan sharks. Once in debt, they become highly vulnerable to abuse from agents and employers.
Labour agents see the fees as a honeypot. It is also widely believed that these fees are often shared with employers who hire workers. In other words, it’s quite widespread for employers to take money from workers to give them jobs, not pay them for work done.
The panellists also suggested that a huge scam might have been operating recently, where contractors bring in hundreds of workers from Bangladesh, each having paid $8,000 to $9,000, without actually having any jobs. A few months later, after holding the workers in dormitories with nothing to do, and not even adequately provided with meals and medical care for those who fell sick, the agents abandon them. Multiply $8,000 by, say, 400 workers, and you have a sum of S$3.2 million.
How do agents manage to bring in workers without having job openings? Apparently, the Ministry of Manpower has such a loose system than just about anybody can say they have jobs without being checked.
Even more ridiculous was that after these hundreds of workers were rescued from virtual internment and starvation, they were mainly sent back to their home country, broke and in debt. Meanwhile hundreds more new workers were being brought in. Why couldn’t we have redeployed these hundreds of stranded workers, so that at least they have a way to earn back what they have paid up and suffered for? Why bring in new workers when we already have desperate workers here?
Singapore’s worker management system is heartless, unco-ordinated and, frankly, a sick joke.