The boss of a company which makes wooden boxes and pallets has been fined $60,000 for taking kickbacks from 20 of his employees, and banned from hiring foreign workers.
Ng Boon Cheng, 55, managing director of Lian Lee Wooden Case Maker, had told the Bangladeshi workers they had to agree to salary cuts to continue working for him.
But the deducted sum, totalling over $93,000, has been returned to them, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a statement yesterday, the day after Ng was fined.
About half of the workers have gone home, while some have been offered new jobs, MOM told The Straits Times.
Others who were helping the prosecution in the case were given temporary jobs on special passes and can either return home or look for another employer here.
The MOM statement said investigations found that between November 2012 and October last year, the workers had sums ranging from $575 to $9,000 deducted from their salaries.
Ng had interviewed them before deciding whether to renew their work permits, and told them if they did not agree to salary deductions for renewal fees, he would not renew their permits.
Collecting kickbacks or other benefits as a condition or financial guarantee for employment is prohibited under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.
Those convicted of collecting kickbacks can be fined a maximum of $30,000, jailed up to two years, or both, for each offence.
A total of 38 people have been convicted in the past two years, MOM said.
Mr Kevin Teoh, divisional director at MOM's Foreign Manpower Management Division, said strong enforcement action will be taken against offenders.
"Such illegal practices must be stopped as they undermine the financial well-being of the foreign workers who have no choice but to agree to such arrangements," he said, adding that errant employers will be barred from hiring foreign workers.
Migrant Workers' Centre chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said the practice is exploitative."We strongly suggest the authorities also strengthen the punishment to include mandatory imprisonment, based on the significant hardship and stress caused to victims,'' he said.
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) executive committee member Debbie Fordyce said evidence is hard to come by because workers are not given receipts.
They often have only a name and mobile number of someone linked to the company, which is not sufficient to identify the recipient of the money.
They are also reluctant to risk their jobs by speaking out.
Foreign workers or others who know of anyone collecting kickbacks may report the matter to MOM at 6438-5122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.