SINGAPORE: Syndicates that illegally bring in foreign labour would typically set up shell companies (i.e. companies with no actual business operations). They would hire fall guys as directors of these shell companies, and misuse their Singpass accounts to make fraudulent work pass applications.
They obtain the quota to employ foreign workers using “phantom workers”. These fall guys would usually have no knowledge of what the company does.
The syndicates would then collect large amounts of kickbacks from the foreign workers, hence making significant illegal monies in the process. As there is no actual employment, the foreign workers are then released to find their own employment.
Many of them conspire with the syndicates, and willingly pay large amounts of kickbacks to be part of the scam, in order to obtain a work pass to stay in Singapore. They would then find their own employment illegally.
Serious Implications of Importing Illegal Labour
Singaporeans are denied employment opportunities when employers hire foreign manpower through illegal means. Law abiding employers are also disadvantaged as there is an uneven playing field in hiring workers.
More importantly, this prevents the Singaporean economy from making critical adjustments towards productivity-driven growth, since employers could circumvent our foreign manpower policy framework and continue to have access to cheap foreign manpower.
Commenting on the operations, Kevin Teoh, Divisional Director of MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division, said: “MOM takes a serious view of bringing in foreign workers without a job and allowing these foreign workers to find their own employment. We will take offenders to task, and will continue our efforts to detect and take down syndicates that perpetuate such offences.”
“If convicted, employers can be imprisoned up to two years, fined up to $6,000 per charge and caned as well. Employers and main contractors must do their due diligence to ensure that all foreign workers at their worksites have valid work passes. It is illegal to hire foreign workers who are released by their official employers to find their own work.”
See: Singapore: MOM and ILO Renew Partnership to Promote Decent Work in Southeast Asia
In 2015, MOM conducted four major operations against syndicates involved in the illegal importation of labour. These syndicates had set up four companies and had brought in approximately 300 workers. A total of 12 syndicate members were arrested.
The Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) was amended in November 2012 to give MOM greater enforcement powers to deal with egregious offences such as illegal labour importation. Penalties were also enhanced for greater deterrence. Persons convicted for the illegal labour importation face imprisonment between six months and two years, and a fine up to $6,000 per charge. For severe cases, the offender is also liable to be caned.
Employers who hire foreign workers seeking illegal employment face a fine of between $5,000 and $30,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment or to both. They may also be barred from employing foreign workers.
Main contractors who are found to have illegal workers at their worksites are liable to be fined up to $15,000 or imprisoned up to 12 months’ or both. They will also be barred from employing foreign workers.
It is important for employers to assess the legitimacy of their labour supply contractors before using their workers. They must not hire foreign workers who have no valid work passes or who are released by their official employers to find their own work, as this constitutes illegal employment.
Occupiers of worksites are also required to ensure that all foreign workers, including those of their sub-contractors, at their worksites have valid work passes. They must not allow foreign workers without a valid Work Pass to enter or work at their sites.
Employers and main contractors who come across released workers should take down their particulars (including the name, work permit number, and employer stated on the work permit card), and report them immediately to MOM.
Foreign workers who hold a valid work permit but have been asked by their official employers to find their own work should report immediately to MOM. MOM will investigate and provide the necessary assistance.
Also read: Majority of Singaporeans Continue to Work Overtime, Despite MOM’s Recommended Limit