28 March 2013

All in a day’s work

28 March 2013

At around lunchtime, I stepped into a Korean restaurant along Tanjong Pagar Road with a colleague. As we looked through the menu, we also “checked out” the servers in the restaurant. Were they locals? If they looked foreign, did they hold valid work passes? Food was obviously the last thing on our minds.

Paying a “Surprise Visit”

The restaurant that I “patronised” was one of five restaurants along the stretch that had been targeted for an operation by our team. The planned operations were part of an ongoing series of similar operations meant to detect cases of illegal employment in F&B outlets. 

Eyes on Target

The task of my colleague and I was to scout the premises for suspected illegal employment. Once we assessed that there was such a possibility, our teammates waiting in the vicinity would move in quickly.

 My colleague and I on the scouting mission

Action Begins

 MOM officers moving in to check on the foreigners working in the restaurant

After we settled the bill, our teammates with their trademark MOM vests descended on the restaurant. We identified ourselves and checked on the foreigners, while ensuring we did so without causing too much of a disturbance to other diners in the restaurant.  I noticed the diners in the restaurant quietly observing the goings-on. I’m glad we didn’t disrupt their meals too much!

We got our targets!

All the foreigners working in the restaurant did not have valid work passes. As we recorded their details and interviewed them in a corner of the restaurant, the restaurant’s business drew to a close for the afternoon. 

At the end of the three-hour operation, we rounded up 15 illegally employed foreigners in those five restaurants that afternoon. Other than employing foreigners without valid Work Passes, some of the restaurants also owed salaries due to their legally-employed foreign employees. These are contraventions under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

We then escorted the foreigners into our van, and proceeded to bring them back to our office. While it may seem that our work has ended here, this is certainly not the case! My colleagues and I would still have to take statements from the foreigners and write reports on our findings. Thereafter, our colleagues from the Investigations branch would take over and it is then that our work is considered done.  

Having been in the operations branch for some time, I realised that no two operations are the same – there are always situations and challenges that keep me on my toes – but that is what I like about the job. I am glad that my work allows me to make a difference, as I am playing a part in enforcing the law, and ensuring that the work pass framework is not undermined. At the same time, we can ensure via our checks that the legitimate workers are treated fairly.

One major contributing factor to the success of each operation is the deployment of our advance party. Not only does it allow us to effectively monitor employers, it also reminds them that our officers are constantly on the ground and looking out for any circumvention of our laws.

We also get tip-offs from the public regularly, and we appreciate that – they act as extra “eyes and ears” for us on the ground [1]!

Most employers of foreign workers are law-abiding, though a small minority may try to get around the system. Thanks to good planning and intelligence gathering, we achieved a 100% “hit rate” this time around. It is through weeding out errant employers who resort to unfair means that we are able to level the playing field for law-abiding employers. Our inspections may have caused some inconvenience to other businesses in the area, but I hope employers understand why we do what we do, and cooperate with us.

It was certainly an interesting day at the office for me, as an MOM Employment Inspector. The action never stops, and I am glad to do my part to uphold our foreign manpower employment laws. 

Victoria (Not real name due to nature of work)
Senior Employment Inspector
Foreign Manpower Management Division, Ministry of Manpower

[1] Members of the public with information on illegal employment can call MOM at (65) 6438 5122, or email to provide information. Such calls and emails will be kept strictly confidential.

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