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MOM tightens Employment of Foreign Manpower Act

The slew of amendments to the foreign employment act will take effect by the end of the year. -AsiaOne

Tue, Sep 11, 2012

SINGAPORE: New amendments to the Foreign Manpower Act will see a tightening of policies on the hiring and retention of foreign manpower, as well as deterring errant employers from getting around the rules.

While moving the second reading of the Bill in Parliament today, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said the proposed amendments will enhance the government's ability to ensure the integrity of the work pass framework.

It will also introduce a calibrated and appropriate response to different types of contraventions.

To sum things up, the changes will allow the ministry to step up enforcement actions against errant employers, errant foreign workers and syndicates more expeditiously and more effectively.

"Singaporeans ultimately suffer when employers fail to pay the true costs of hiring foreign manpower or hiring foreign manpower that they are not entitled to.

"Local workers will lose out on employment opportunities. Honest employers who play by the rules are also unfairly disadvantaged," said Mr Tan.

The amendments have been made along three broad thrusts:

First, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will establish a penalty regime to enforce infringements to complement prosecution efforts, such as imposing financial penalties, debarment from applying for and renewing work passes.

Mr Tan explained that imposing higher financial penalties and debarring employers from renewing or applying for foreign work passes is more effective than prosecuting them in court via a criminal charge, is criminal processes can be lengthy and consume prosecutorial and court resources.

He also said that the criminal process has been strengthened by differentiating foreign employment infringements from criminal offences.

Commissioners for Foreign Manpower will be appointed and authorised to administer the new penalty regime and will be empowered to impose financial penalties, capped at a maximum of $20,000 per infringement.

The Controller of Work Passes can now delegate his powers to authorised officers to administer the regime.

With this in place, MOM can now prosecute infringers that fail to comply with the Commissioners' directions, subject to a maximum fine of $10,000 or to a maximum imprisonment term of 12 months, or both.

MOM will also be given the power to establish an independent Appeal Board to assess appeals against decisions made by the Commissioners for Foreign Manpower. It will consist of three members, and the chairperson would be someone who is qualified to be a Judge of the Supreme Court.

Second, MOM will introduce new contraventions and increase penalties that commensurate with potential profits gained from the abuse of the system.

What this means is that MOM can now prosecute syndicates that set up shell businesses and illegally import and supply foreign workers.

"These syndicates circumvent our immigration laws on employing illegal immigrants. They recruit foreign workers ostensibly on legal work passes, but do not provide actual employment, upkeep and maintenance.

"Instead, these workers are forced to seek illegal employment on their own. Syndicates have also evolved from setting up pure shell businesses to setting up partial-sham businesses that may employ a few local workers for genuine business operations, while on the side recruiting foreign workers on false promises of employment and supplying them out illegally," explained Mr Tan.

The MOM will adopt same penalties for employing illegal immigrants under the Immigration Act, which includes a fine of up to $6,000, an imprisonment term of six months to two years, and mandatory caning for offenders that hire more than five foreign workers.

Foreign workers who submit forged educational qualifications for S Pass and Employment Pass applications will be subject to a maximum fine of $20,000 or to a maximum imprisonment term of trwo years, or both.

Employers, supervisors, human resource staff, and sub-contractors who collect money as consideration for employment from foreign workers will also be prosecuted. The collection of "employment kickbacks" increases the foreign workers' debt burden while disadvantaging Singaporeans in favour of foreign labour.

Such offenders will be subject to a maximum fine of $30,000, or to a maximum imprisonment term of two years, or to both.

Under work pass conditions, employers should be bearing costs such as foreign worker levies, security deposits, medical insurance, premiums and so forth. Some errant employers fail to bear the true costs of hiring foreign workers by recovering these costs from their workers instead.

Such employers who illegally recover employment costs from foreign workers will be subject to a penalty of $20,000.

Errant employers who pay CPF to local 'phantom workers' to inflate their foreign worker quota which they should not have access to in the first place, will also be penalised $20,000.

Aside from the key contraventions above, current work pass conditions will be updated with more explicit requirements to provide greater clarity on employers' responsibilities.

Third, MOM will include new presumption clauses and expand investigatory powers to facilitate enforcement against common contraventions and syndicate operations.

At any reasonable time, MOM will have the power to enter and inspect a premise where any work pass application has been made, where a foreign employee is working or accommodated, or any business premises belonging to the employer.

This will allow the ministry to assess the authenticity of the work pass applications, whether the business operations exist and to weed out shell businesses.

In addition, MOM will be allowed to search a premise by force if there is reasonable belief of a breach of the Act, or when a foreigner can be found within the premise.

The ministry will also have the power to take video and voice recordings during investigations and use them as evidence in court.

Finally, employers may also be asked to produce all employees, both local and foreign, to assist in investigations.

The amendments above will take effect the end of this year, concluded Mr Tan.

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