Wednesday 15 August 2012

Illegal import of foreign labour, receiving kickbacks to be made criminal offences

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Aug 2012

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) is tightening the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) so as to ensure compliance with the work pass framework.

It's raising penalties for errant employers who contravene the law.

The ministry is also introducing a new Administrative Financial Penalty (AFP) regime to complement existing criminal prosecution and deter people from breaching regulations.

Acting Manpower Minister, Tan Chuan-Jin, tabled the first reading of the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on Monday.

From illegally employing foreign workers to using "phantom" local workers to secure higher quota for foreign workers, errant employers have found various ways to circumvent regulations set out in the work pass framework.

The result is that there were fewer job opportunities for Singaporeans.

As of December 2011, there are nearly 1.19 million foreign workers in Singapore.

So the Manpower Ministry is tightening the foreign worker employment law to ensure Singaporeans remain at the core of the country's workforce and to make employers pay the true cost of hiring foreigners.

President of Association of Employment Agencies, K Jayaprema, said: "One of the complaints is definitely employers who do not pay the correct salary they have promised to the employee; they do not observe the proper employment terms such as housing, overtime pay and other privileges which the employees are entitled to.

"The other is definitely they have not been offered the correct type of job they are recruited for. Very often they end up doing jobs they are not familiar with, it's not a job they have been told to be doing and largely it is the exorbitant fees they are being charged.

"We often hear from candidates they do not recover what they have spent to come into Singapore, so it has become a wasted effort for them."

Among the proposed changes, MOM is making it a criminal offence for those who illegally import foreign labour, submit forged certificates of workers, use "phantom" local workers to secure higher quota for foreign workers, and receive employment kickbacks.

Penalties for these offences will also be raised.

MOM said foreign workers pay between S$2,000 to S$10,000 to middlemen to secure jobs in Singapore. This has also severely disadvantaged locals who want to try for the same job.

To facilitate enforcement of regulations, MOM will presume that any monies collected from foreign workers are collected as consideration for employment, meaning as employment kickbacks.

Likewise for forged certificates, the ministry will also presume that the foreign worker knew that the educational qualification provided in his own work pass application was false.

Ms Jayaprema said: "I am not looking at 100 per cent eradication but if you look at the new regulations being introduced, every employer who reads it or takes the trouble to look at it will give it a good thought, will realise that they are going to lose a lot if they don't take these regulations seriously.

"Many of them are hiring through their own workers which is considered illegal, doing illegal employment agency business which we should not encourage.

"Very often employers have their own staff and HR who do their own recruitment and that's where malpractices steps in. This is something we have been highlighting to MOM that they have to correct the problems they are facing with the employers.

"Many of the employers choose not to come to the agencies. They prefer to recruit direct because we actually tell them what are the rules to observe and they find it difficult to deal with proper licensed agencies."

MOM intends to implement the changes by the end of this year.

MOM seeking feedback for changes to laws on hiring foreign workers

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