2 Filipino maids fined, banned from Singapore for moonlighting as middlemen for moneylending: MOM

SINGAPORE - Two Filipino foreign domestic workers have been fined for working illegally as middlemen for a moneylender, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement on Friday (Sept 27).

Jenalyn Masirag Gannaban, 39, and Obillo Arlene Manale, 50, had assisted other maids to secure loans from a licensed moneylender and earned monthly commissions of between $100 and $400. They were sentenced in the State Courts on Thursday for working without a valid work pass under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

Jenalyn and Obillo were fined $8,000 and $5,000 respectively. They will have their work permits revoked and will be barred from entering and working in Singapore.

Based on MOM investigations, the two had assisted other maids to secure loans by scheduling appointments with VM Credit. In return, they received between $10 and $30 from fellow maids for each approved loan. Jenalyn earned around $100 to $150 each month while Obillo earned around $300 to $400 each month for such activities between June 2017 and November last year.

A foreign domestic worker is deemed to be working without a valid work pass if she holds a second job, said MOM. If convicted, they can be fined up to $20,000 or jailed for up to two years, or both. They will also have their work permits revoked, be sent home and be barred from working in Singapore.

The Credit Association of Singapore (CAS) does not believe it is common for licensed moneylenders to use foreign domestic workers as middlemen in their activities, said its president Mr Peter Tan.

Such middlemen activities have not left a negative impact on the industry, he said, adding that CAS has taken active steps to promote responsible practices among domestic workers.

"The association conducts classes on financial literacy and responsible borrowing with voluntary welfare organisations for domestic workers," he said.

Some voluntary welfare organisations that CAS works with include Blessed Grace and the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training.

Still, Ms Jolene Ong, chairman of community service enterprise Arise2Care, said she has come across several cases where foreign domestic workers rely on credit from licensed moneylenders, loan sharks and other maids who charge them interest for the credit borrowed.

These maids are often unable to differentiate between legal and illegal moneylending activities, she said.

"During my counselling sessions, I usually brief the domestic workers on the dangers of borrowing from loan sharks, who may imitate licensed moneylenders. I also try to send relevant advisories from the police related to unlicensed moneylenders and ask the helpers to circulate it to their friends," she said.

Ms Ong has also paid out of her own pocket to assist helpers who did not realise they would be unable to pay back the loans they took.

The helpers would then pay her back through a minimum monthly sum that allowed them to keep their finances afloat.

She said middlemen activities take root because the helpers do not understand the risk of illegal borrowing.

"Some helpers are easily influenced by their peers. They will blindly borrow from other maids who charge them interest for the credit."

Common reasons helpers resort to credit are to meet education and healthcare expenses for their families back home. As many helpers are the sole breadwinners of their families, Ms Ong believes they may feel pressured to borrow credit.

But employers should be the first point of contact for helpers who wish to borrow money, she said.

"A need is a need. Employers should still be open to (discussing the matter) even if they are not willing to lend credit to their maids," said Ms Ong.

"They can provide alternative assistance to their helpers by directing them to licensed moneylenders and supervising how they pay back the loan (using) a portion of their monthly salary."