$153k fine for employers of victims in Geylang fire

Four workers died and several others were injured in the shophouse fire that broke out on Dec 6, 2014. Investigations by MOM revealed that 22 foreign workers were residing in the shophouse, which exceeded URA's then-prevailing occupancy cap of eight
Four workers died and several others were injured in the shophouse fire that broke out on Dec 6, 2014. Investigations by MOM revealed that 22 foreign workers were residing in the shophouse, which exceeded URA's then-prevailing occupancy cap of eight persons.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

Trio housed foreign workers in overcrowded shophouse, resulting in four deaths in 2014

Three employers have been fined a total of $153,000 for housing foreign workers in overcrowded private residential premises, resulting in the death of four workers in a 2014 shophouse fire.

Ong Lai Kar, director of Essential Clean and Care; Ong Huay Chew, director of Seng Foo Building Construction; and Koh Kok Seng, director of Bestway Cleaning Services, have also been barred from employing foreign workers.

The trio were convicted under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act last Friday. They had housed their foreign workers in a shophouse in Lorong 4 Geylang since August 2014, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

On Dec 6 that year, a fire broke out in the shophouse, leading to the deaths of four workers and several others being injured.

While the cause of the fire was electrical in origin, the ministry's investigations revealed that 22 foreign workers were residing in the shophouse, which exceeded the Urban Redevelopment Authority's then-prevailing occupancy cap of eight persons.

MOM then took prosecution action against the employers for housing the workers in overcrowded conditions, the ministry said.

One of the directors, Ong Lai Kar, is also facing charges of abetting the other two employers to house their foreign workers in the overcrowded shophouse.

EMPLOYERS' DUTY

Lives have been lost. Employers are legally obliged to exercise a duty of care towards their workers, and this duty cannot be simply delegated to others.

DIRECTOR OF WELL-BEING AT MOM'S FOREIGN MANPOWER DIVISION JEANETTE HAR

The master tenant, property owner and other involved parties of the affected unit are also facing charges under the Planning Act and Fire Safety Act. If convicted, they could be fined up to $200,000, jailed up to two years, or both, under the Fire Safety Act.

Ms Jeanette Har, director of well-being at MOM's foreign manpower management division, said employers who fail to ensure that their workers are housed in safe and proper accommodation will be firmly taken to task.

"Lives have been lost. Employers are legally obliged to exercise a duty of care towards their workers, and this duty cannot be simply delegated to others," she was quoted as saying in MOM's statement.

In the last two years, MOM has conducted more than 3,000 housing inspections on private residences housing foreign workers.

Foreign workers who have issues with their accommodation are urged to first raise the matter to their employer, the ministry said.

"If their employers fail to make improvements to the living conditions, they should immediately seek advice and assistance from the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) at 6536-2692 or report the matter to MOM at 6438-5122," it added.

"Members of the public who come across foreign workers living in overcrowded and poorly maintained accommodation can similarly report the matter to MWC or MOM."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2018, with the headline '$153k fine for employers of victims in Geylang fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe