12 weeks' jail for company director who did not house foreign workers, pay their salaries

SINGAPORE - A company director was sentenced to 12 weeks' jail on Thursday (Dec 14) for failing to pay workers' salaries and for not providing them with proper accommodation while they waited for payment to be settled.

Teo Choon Chai, 27, of Lian Hup Xin Construction was convicted of 18 charges under the Employment Act and two charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

Another 22 charges were taken into consideration, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statement said on Friday.

It said the company did not pay salaries totalling more than $15,000 to six foreign workers and Teo had failed to ensure that it fulfilled its legal obligations to the workers.

Lian Hup Xin Construction has been barred from applying for or renewing the work passes of its foreign workers. MOM has suspended all work pass privileges for Teo and any future companies set up by him.

In May 2016, the six workers reported that they had not been paid salaries for 3½ months. They were also evicted from their dormitory.

Investigations revealed that Teo had incurred gambling debts and did not pay the workers for more than three months. He also failed to ensure housing for them after they were evicted from the temporary quarters provided by the company's main contractor.

As Teo was uncontactable, MOM had to work with the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) to relocate the workers to an approved dormitory.

Other than paying the dormitory charges, MWC also provided for the workers during this period.

MOM said the workers made the report after three months of not being paid and noted that their salary arrears accumulated to a substantial amount. MOM managed to help them recover only about half of the amount owed after negotiating for ex-gratia payments provided through the security bond insurers.

Mr Raymond Tan Choon Guan, MOM's director of employment standards enforcement, said: "Employers have to pay their workers' salaries on time... The workers in this case were unable to recover their salaries in full. From our experience, workers have a better chance of fully recovering their salaries if they report their salary claims early."

Under the Employment Act, failure to pay salaries within the stipulated deadlines can result in a fine of up to $15,000, or six months' imprisonment, or both, on each charge.

Failure to ensure proper housing for foreign workers can result in a maximum fine of $10,000, or 12 months' imprisonment, or both, on each charge, under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

Workers who are owed salaries and or have housing issues should approach MOM, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management or their unions early for assistance. They can also seek help from the MWC.

MOM says anyone who knows of people or employers who contravene the laws should report the matter to the ministry on 1800-221-9922 or e-mail workright@mom.gov.sg. MOM says all information will be kept strictly confidential.