Sunday 15 July 2012

Trafficking in Persons Report 2012: Singapore's Response

Govt rebuts US report on human trafficking
Panel clarifies 'errors' in paper saying S'pore fell short of global standards
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 14 Jul 2012

A GOVERNMENT panel has given a point-for-point rebuttal of what it said were 'inaccuracies' in a recent United States report on human trafficking here.

The US State Department report published last month had concluded that Singapore still fell short of international standards to fight human trafficking.

Singapore's inter-agency task force on human trafficking said the US report had reflected the 'significant' progress made here on the problem, but it also contained 'several inaccuracies and misrepresentations' that needed to be clarified.

The Singapore panel, whose response was 3 1/2 pages long, comprises representatives from the Singapore Police Force and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and is co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The US report charged, for example, that Singapore employers can repatriate their foreign workers at any time during their contracts. It also said Singapore employers had the power to bar these workers from ever getting jobs here again by filing complaints against them.

The Singapore task force's rebuttal to this was that employers here who terminate the services of their workers must give them notice or pay them salaries in lieu of notice.

And under Work Pass conditions, employers must pay all outstanding salaries and money due to foreign workers before repatriating them.

An employer who flouts this rule will have breached the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, and stands to be fined up to $5,000 or jailed for up to six months.

The Singapore panel further said employers here do not have the power to place employment bars on workers; such bars are imposed by MOM on foreign workers who have broken the law here.

Besides these errors, the US report carried factual inaccuracies such as the statement that the Singapore Government convicted four sex-trafficking offenders last year.

In actual fact, five cases, some involving a group of people, were prosecuted last year.

At least one accused person in each case has been convicted.

The US report was also inaccurate in saying that MOM had not gone to the police when it inspected repatriation companies and employment agencies and identified 20 instances of 'passport withholding', an indicator of human trafficking.

The task force replied that MOM was unable to ascertain that labour trafficking had taken place in the 20 cases in its preliminary investigations, and so did not refer those leads to the police.

The task force said in its response: 'As we progress in our anti-trafficking efforts, Singapore calls on the US to improve the credibility of the State Department's annual report by ensuring greater accuracy of facts and by making the report's methodology more objective.

'This will ensure that a consistent, transparent and measurable standard is applied across all countries, and a better understanding of the different legal structures and domestic contexts of countries ranked in the report are taken into account.'

The report is a tool that the US government uses to engage other countries in dialogue to advance anti-trafficking reforms.

Based on the State Department's findings, Singapore was placed in 'Tier 2', for countries that do not fully comply with minimum international standards of protecting migrant workers from forced labour or other forms of trafficking in people, but are making 'significant efforts' in the area.

The task force has met US Embassy representatives here to discuss the inaccuracies.


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