PARLIAMENT

Jail time proposed for operators of unlicensed massage outlets

A police raid of unlicensed massage parlours, including this one at Upper Paya Lebar, in April this year. There has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of unlicensed massage outlets here between 2013 and last year.
A police raid of unlicensed massage parlours, including this one at Upper Paya Lebar, in April this year. There has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of unlicensed massage outlets here between 2013 and last year.ST FILE PHOTO

Tougher penalties proposed in Bill include a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail term of up to two years

After they are busted, the operators of some unlicensed massage establishments will pay the $1,000 fine and open a new place soon after.

But now, the Government is proposing tougher laws in the face of a 40 per cent increase in the number of unlicensed massage establishments here between 2013 and last year.

Many of these, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), are fronts for vice activities.

The MHA yesterday tabled the Massage Establishments Bill in Parliament for first reading.

The Bill includes a tenfold increase in the fine, up to $10,000 for operators of such establishments.

While there is no risk of jail time currently for operators of unlicensed massage establishments, the Bill includes a jail term of up to two years.

The harsher penalties will also extend to landlords who knowingly lease their property to unlicensed operators.

Under the Bill, the landlord must evict the operator within a month. If the tenant refuses to vacate the premises, the landlord can apply to court to get his premises back.

Landlords who take "reasonable steps to do so" will not be penalised, while those who do not face a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to two years, or both.

And while criminal proceedings are ongoing, police will be able to close the massage establishments, which currently remain open "because of their profitability", said the MHA in a press release.

Meanwhile, the Bill is also making a distinction between high-and low-risk activities when it comes to massage establishment licences.

Those providing services deemed as low-risk - such as nail salon services, hair removal treatments, fish spas and baths - will no longer need to apply for a licence under this Bill.

"These activities do not pose the same law and order concerns as traditional massage establishments offering body massages in private rooms," said the MHA.

However, low-risk establishments found to be providing unlicensed massage services will face the same stiffer penalties.

Licensees with a good track record could be issued licences valid for up to three years, instead of the current one year.

Ms Gloria Tan, senior vice-president of the Spa and Wellness Association, said it welcomed the Bill.

She said: "In fact, our association has always been saying that a $1,000 fine for operating an unlicensed massage establishment is too low. It isn't enough of a deterrent to those who will just pay the $1,000 and open another establishment. These operators have been giving everyone in the business a bad name."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Jail time proposed for operators of unlicensed massage outlets'. Print Edition | Subscribe