Before I start, please check out "Who chases workers up cranes?" by Yawning Bread on how the officers from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower handle complaints from 2 foreign migrant workers. Below are extracts from Yawning Bread's "Who chases workers up cranes?".
"The two men thought that not only were the deductions unjust, it was absurd that they had not been told of this before.
They went to MOM to lodge a complaint about the owed salaries, the unannounced deductions and the net effect of negating their claims. The officer at MOM told them to bring documentary proof."
As Yawning Bread remarked, Acting Manpower Minister "Tan Chuan-Jin said in his Facebook post that “MOM requires documentation from workers in order to substantiate their claims”, but he seems ignorant of the power imbalance between low-wage (especially migrant) workers, and employers."------------------------------
Let us look at how a case of alleged illegal collection of employment fees is handled in Alberta, Canada. For more details of the case, please click here (Director of Fair Trading order) and here (Appeal Board decision) for documents from Service Alberta, Government of Alberta. [I suggest reading the Appeal Board document for the fuller story of investigations involved.]
Note: In Alberta, Canada, it is illegal for any business operator to seek any fee, reward or other compensation from a job applicant. [See "Legislation" section of the Director of Fair Trading order for details.]
Below is a brief of what happened according to the above Service Alberta, Government of Alberta documents.
1. Albera Ltd (a.k.a. Mabis Recruitment Agency) operates as an employment agency business by the sole director AC and the representative VV of the company.
2. Mabis recruited and arranged for temporary foreign workers (TFWs) to work as food counter attendants at a Tim Horton's franchise in Edmonton.
3. Mabis obtained the visas and airline tickets for the TFWs who, after arrival, worked in the said franchise. The franchise owner reimbursed Mabis the cost and quoted recruitment fees.
4. Some of the TFWs complained to Service Alberta that Mabis collected employment fees from them.
"A number of foreign workers filed complaints with Service Alberta that monies were paid to the Appellants, or their agents, in Korea or by electronic funds transfer to the Appellants [Mabis et al] in Edmonton. ... Service Alberta had opened 24 files based on separate complaints against the Appellants [Mabis et al] for receipt of funds contrary to the regulations of the Act which were not paid back to the Complainants." - extracted from Paragraph 17 of the Appeal Board decision.
"The Complainants who gave evidence were not sophisticated individuals. They came from overseas to work in Canada for minimum wage, a good portion of which is sent back to their families in the Philippines. The monies that had been charged varied from $700 to over $5,000, with most being in the $1,5000 to $3,000 range. This equates to a significant sum of money for these individuals who are faced with the rules, regulations and processes of a foreign country (Canada), all of which would be daunting to anyone unless they felt strongly about their situation. The Complainants giving evidence at the appeal hearing also indicated that, while they thought that the payments made to the Appellants were payments of fees for getting a job in Canada at the time, they were prepared to make those payments to get employment in Canada. It was only after they learned that those payments were illegal under the Act, that they filed the complaint against the Appellants." - extracted from Paragraph 18 of the Appeal Board decision with emphasis added by WD.
5. The complaint resulted in investigations by Service Alberta leading to the Director of Fair Trading order to Alberta Ltd (a.k.a. Mabis Recruitment Agency), AC and VV to
"immediately stop demanding or indirectly demanding or collecting a fee, reward or other compensation from a person who is seeking employment, or for securing or endeavouring to secure employment for the person." - extracted from the Director of Fair Trading order.
6. Mabis and its operators appealed against the Director of Fair Trading order.
7. As common with such dispute cases, there are situations of "your word against mine". The Appeal Board investigators report supported the TFWs claims as follow [extracted from Paragraph 19 of the Appeal Board decision with emphasis added by WD].
"a. Lawyer for the Appellants indicated that the Complainants conspired to cause problems for the Appellants yet the large number of complaints (47), most of which are still overseas, does not support this conspiracy theory."
"b. The documents that were signed by the Complainants, indicating that they were given their money back in cash, was acknowledged to be signed by the Complainants, however, the Appeal Board accepts their explanation that they feared that if they did not sign the document, they would not get employment in Canada."
"c. The Appellants indicated that they had no agents overseas, yet, the investigator's report indicates that there are emails that seem to contradict that."
8. There was also attacks on the (Complainants) TFWs credibility of giving evidence under oath because 2 of them had produced "resumes that contained inaccurate representations of work experience". "The Appeal Board finds that the puffery that the Complainants acknowledged in their resumes could not be equated to the evidence that they gave at the hearing under oath and accepts the Complainants explanation as truthful." -- extracted from Paragraph 20 of the Appeal Board decision.
9. Paragraph 22 of the Appeal Board decision with emphasis added by WD.
"When taking all of the evidence into consideration, the Appeal Board viewed the arrangement as being in the control of the Appellants. The Appellants could easily have avoided this controversy by opening a trust account with a chartered bank and having all money pass through that account with the use of cheques or traceable money orders, but they chose not to. The Complainants did get some benefit in coming to Canada, but they are not becoming wealthy by doing the work they do. On the other hand, the Appellants would seem to be benefiting much more and on the balance of probabilities, the evidence of the Complainants is preferred."10. The Appeal Board ordered witness fees to be paid to the complainant witnesses (TFWs).
If you read stories from H.O.M.E., TWC2, and foreign labour related entries from Yawning Bread [click here or here for examples] or TheOnlineCitizen, you would know that unscrupulous agents and/or employers exploiting the ignorance and imbalance-in-power of temporary foreign workers to make money off their backs exist in Singapore.
You will also note the huge differences in the handling of complaints from temporary foreign workers (TFWs). For example:
- Singapore MOM's bring your own black-and-white evidence for prosecution; vs Canada's sending in an investigator.
- Singapore's "law-by-law" approach relying on black-and-white evidence; vs Canada's wherein if the black-and-white evidence runs counter to the allegations of the TFWs, the officials consider the explanation given by the TFWs for the discrepancy and the relative benefits of the situation to each party (see point 9 above).
- Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin's statement which suggested a disregard of the power imbalance between low-wage (especially migrant) workers, and employer; vs Canada's "Appeal Board viewed the arrangement as being in the control of the Appellants" [employment agent].
- Singapore's CPIB/Airport-Police plans to utilize TFWs for their investigative work without compensation whatsoever, and instead, relying on charity for the TFWs' sustenance; vs Canada where witness are paid fees, and victims of human trafficking are provided protection and assistance by the government. [Click here for details of the support given.]
IMHO, Singapore should hang its head in shame given its claims of a wealthier government and more efficient bureaucracy. Especially in this case, where instead of enforcing the Ministry of Manpower's "Labour Court" ruling that was in favour of the TFW, its officer recalled the TFW to the MOM office to subject him to another round of interrogation.
Some may say, it is easy in the above Canadian example for action to be taken against a small-to-medium-sized private business. Now, what if the party involved is a large and/or government-linked organization (e.g. SMRT Corp)? We shall see in the next instalment (part 4).
I would just like to add a few postscript notes for people who may be seeking employment in Canada.
1. Do not trust someone on the basis of him/her being your own countrymen
I happened to know a bit of information about the couple involved in the Canadian case above. AC is the husband of VV. AC originated from Singapore (born-and-bred Singaporean) and VV originated from The Philippines, before they migrated to Canada together. The main group of TFWs that they collected fees from were Filipinos. [Yeah, VV's fellow countrymen.]
Let's just say that I had been proposition by some Singaporeans (based in Canada or elsewhere) with various schemes/plans when I sought to build a network of contacts during the period of my transition to Canada. Be careful of people giving you free business or investment advice/suggestions. Analyze things carefully and independently, or the freebies may end-up costing you more than you realize. I am glad that I took the conservative path and avoided committing on any major business or financial directions/transactions until I gathered independent sources of data/information.
2. Use of look-alike or sound-alike names to piggyback on famous brands
Some Filipinos reading this would recognize "Mabis" as a well-known and reputable Filipino recruitment agency. But the Mabis Recruitment Agency (a.k.a. Alberta Ltd) is totally unrelated to the well-known MAB Int'l. Services Inc. (MABIS). Too many people have a tendency not to "read the fine print" and rely on their own inferred association rather than checking the reality. Sometimes such association is harmless, but other times (as shown in the case above) it may cost them heavily.
There are also similar brand rip-offs in Singapore. Sometimes the rip-off may just be that of piggyback on a famous name association without the malicious intent. Nevertheless, it may confuse people who rely on their own inferred association rather than checking the reality. E.g. My friend LC (who was born in Hong Kong, graduated from Ireland and worked in London before relocating to Singapore with his British wife) actually thought that sending his sons to Eton House in Singapore would be akin to sending them to famous Eton College in U.K. where Prince William studied. Even after I told him that they are not related, he still liked the sound of his sons having attended "Eton". Fortunately, it so happened that LC and his family left the little red dot before his sons reached school age.
Canada's immigration and visa regulations are transparent and accessible online. If you plan to work in Canada, please check the facts out for yourself from the Canada Immigration and Citizenship website instead of relying on hearsay. It takes some effort on your part, but it may save you lots of potential heartache.