MOM's Response to TWC2 "More of here, less of there" report
Legislation and enforcement in place to tackle issue of unlicensed employment agents
The report “More of here, less of there” is not representative of the overall foreign worker population in Singapore. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) notes that the authors of the report acknowledged that they had only interviewed a small group of 381 workers, 90% of which were Bangladeshi workers, while the rest were from India. As at December 2018, there were 718,800 non-domestic work permit holders in Singapore.
The analysis of the report may not be sufficiently rigorous. For example, the report found that 62 of the workers interviewed were “repeat” workers and had one agent in Singapore, and had paid “excessive placement fees” to an “unlicensed agent” in Singapore. This conclusion was made primarily because the monies exceeded the cap that Singapore imposes on placement fees. The authors of the report did not seem to have made attempts to verify who the Singapore agent was, if there were other agents involved, and who the workers paid their placement fees to.
Notwithstanding, MOM would like to respond to some of the observations and recommendations highlighted in the report:
1. Work pass holders engaging in unlicensed employment agency activities
MOM has in place legislation, backed by strong enforcement, to tackle the issue of unlicensed employment agents highlighted in the report. The Employment Agencies Act prohibits any individuals from performing employment agency (EA) activities without a valid EA licence. Offenders can be fined up to $80,000, or jailed for up to two years, or both, per charge. On top of stiff penalties, work pass holders who engage in unlicensed EA activities will have their work passes revoked and banned from working in Singapore.
Since 2016, we have stepped up outreach efforts and enforcement against unlicensed EA activities. Between 2016 and 2018, about 350 foreigners conducting unlicensed EA activities were taken to task, ranging from being sternly warned to being prosecuted in Court.
Through the mandatory Settling-In Programme (SIP), newly-arrived foreign construction workers are educated on the agency fee cap imposed on Singapore EAs, and the implications of conducting unlicensed EA activities or using the services of an unlicensed EA. MOM also informs existing workers, through the FW mobile app in their native languages (see attached collateral) and dormitory road shows, on the penalties and consequences for acting as an illegal EA.
2. Providing IPA letters to workers
The In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter, which is given to workers in their native languages, is an important document that includes key employment terms such as salary, allowances and deductions. MOM has stepped up engagement and outreach to remind employers of their obligations to ensure that their workers receive a copy of their IPA letters prior to their departure to Singapore. Failure to provide IPA is a breach of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations, and carries a maximum administrative financial penalty of $10,000.
All new construction work permit holders are required to produce the IPA letter when they attend the SIP, where they are taught how to read and understand the contents of the IPA.
3. Call for a centralised job portal for foreign workers
An online job portal already exists for foreign construction workers in Singapore who are looking for new employers. The Singapore Contractors Association Limited set up the Foreign Construction Worker Directory System (FCWDS) in 2015 to facilitate job matching between employers and foreign workers in the sector. FCWDS has also been incorporated into a third-party mobile app owned by the private sector, called the FWapp, to improve its accessibility to foreign construction workers.
For foreign workers who are seeking to work in Singapore, they typically have to go through various channels or intermediaries in their home country. Besides the recruitment process, there are other source country procedures that the workers will have to comply with before departing for Singapore. As such, the online jobs portal would not stop intermediaries in the source country from charging fees to link the foreign workers to the official channels there.
MOM takes a pragmatic approach to tackle the issue of high recruitment fees. Our laws cap the recruitment fees charged by employment agencies in Singapore to two months of their salary for two years of service. This is coupled with strong enforcement actions taken by MOM against unlicensed EAs and errant EAs who charge recruitment fees above the fee cap. If our investigation reveals any suspicious or irregular fee practices by overseas agents, MOM will share the information with our foreign counterparts to enlist their help to combat any malpractices in their countries.