08 September 2014

Defenceless Victims or Wilful Perpetrators?

08 September 2014

Did you recently read an online article about an employment scam which involved four foreign employees working for a major convenience store chain? Were you enraged to read that rather than addressing their grievances, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had charged the employees for making false declaration to MOM in their work pass applications? The State Courts subsequently found them guilty of the charges and imposed fines and imprisonment, and MOM had banned them from working in Singapore again.

You must wonder why MOM did what we did, as the article might not have presented the full picture, which would inevitably have misled readers to arrive at wrong conclusions about MOM. For every employment scam that MOM looks into, due diligence is made to establish the exact facts and how each party is involved, either as a willing participant wanting to benefit from the illegal agreement, or as someone who was tricked or forced into the situation. Foreign employees do fall prey to unethical employers, and the aim is to sieve out the genuine victims from the ones who try to game the system through illegal means.

There was a recent employment scam which we had unearthed. Perhaps you might be interested to read the complete story, as it is.

The Story Unfolds…

On 18 February 2014, four companies, which were franchisees of 7-Eleven, and their 22 foreign employees, were convicted under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) for falsely declaring information to MOM in their work pass applications.

Gnanaprakasam Frederick Sebastin Roch (Sebastin), Deepu Lakshmana Gowda (Deepu) and Chelladurai Ganesh Kumar (Ganesh) were among the 22 foreign employees convicted. They confessed that they had known they would not be paid their declared salaries, even before signing their work pass application forms. In fact, Sebastin and Ganesh were still in India when they agreed to the illegal salary arrangement.

Sebastin, Deepu and Ganesh also admitted in their statements to MOM officers that they were aware of MOM’s regulations, and the consequences for knowingly flouting the regulations. They knew that it was an offence to make a false declaration, but chose to go along with it because they had wanted to work in Singapore.

The trio were charged under the EFMA in the State Courts, and on 18 February 2014, fined between $5,000 and $7,000 or sentenced to five to seven weeks’ imprisonment in default. They did not pay the fines and thus served the in-default sentences. They were also permanently banned from working in Singapore. Their employers and the employment agents involved were also prosecuted by MOM.[1]

The Long Arm of the Law

Few can escape the long arm of the law, and the consequences of illegal acts are not worth the short-term gain. If the foreign employees felt that they were victims of an employment scam, they should not have gone ahead with the employment arrangements and made the false declaration, a serious offence under the EFMA. Foreign employees who are already in Singapore when they have suspicions about an employment scam should make a report with MOM at the very first instance, so that action can be taken against the errant employers and assistance can be provided to the employees.

Unfortunately for Sebastin, Deepu and Ganesh, by agreeing to the illegal salary arrangement, they had colluded with their employers to commit a serious offence. These acts severely undermine the integrity of Singapore’s work pass framework and cannot be condoned. MOM advises foreign employees who find themselves in any employment situation that is against the law, to immediately seek help from MOM. We have in place schemes that allow victimised employees to change employers and continue working in Singapore while their cases are being investigated, ensuring that speaking out against errant employers will not necessarily lead to a loss of employment.

On the online story which seemed to suggest that MOM prosecutes foreign employees who were not culpable, the facts speak for themselves. MOM will not prosecute foreign employees if they are not culpable. It is easy to draw eyeballs to stories which present one side of the story to elicit sympathy. Responsible reporting, however, requires one to present all sides of the story, so that the readers know what the facts are. And the fact is that MOM is and remains committed to protecting and upholding all employees' rights and interests. Most employees recognise that, and they visit the MOM Services Centre each day to seek advice from our officers.

[1] Read more about the case from MOM’s press release
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