Agency pleads guilty to casting maids in undignified light online

Recruiter treated them as commodities by marking them as 'sold' on Carousell ads: MOM

An employment agency which advertised maids that have been hired as "sold" has become the first firm to plead guilty to posting insensitive advertising, breaching regulations laid out in the Employment Agency Licence Conditions.

SRC Recruitment pleaded guilty yesterday to 45 charges which included initiating the advertisements that cast foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in an undignified light. Another 99 charges will be taken into consideration during sentencing.

One of SRC's employees was fined $20,000 last November.

The insensitive advertisements, which were posted on online marketplace Carousell, gave the impression that maids were commodities that could be purchased.

For instance, the posts contained a price column and when a maid was selected, the advertisement would indicate underneath her photograph that she had been "sold".

Employment agencies have to operate in accordance with Employment Agency (EA) alerts, which are official messages the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regularly sends out to such firms.

These alerts emphasise the need for agencies to refrain from "insensitive advertising" that cast FDWs in an "undignified light", MOM prosecutor Vala M. told the court.

She said MOM sent out such alerts on three occasions - July 16, 2014; Nov 18, 2016 and Feb 2 last year.

In mid-August last year, one of SRC Recruitment's employees, Erleena Mohd Ali, 41, set up a Carousell account under the profile name "maid.recruitment" which was linked to her work e-mail address.

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Ms Vala said: "The purpose of setting up the account was to post the biodatas of the available Indonesian FDWs for potential employers to view.

"Erleena sought the permission of the key appointment holder of the accused company, Koh Seng Yeow... Koh informed Erleena that he had no objection to her posting on the Carousell website."

Erleena then posted the advertisements, casting the maids "in a manner akin to commodity that could be bought and sold", Ms Vala said.

Erleena was fined $20,000 last November and no longer works for the firm, which is located in LTC Building B in Arumugam Road, near Paya Lebar Road.

Besides the insensitive advertisements, SRC Recruitment had also failed to ensure that its full name and licence number were displayed on its posts on Carousell.

Yesterday, Ms Vala told the court that having employment agencies list their full names and licence numbers is a necessary safeguard against unlicensed employment agencies.

She added: "This would not only allow potential employers to know and verify that the employment agencies they are intending to engage are indeed licensed, but also ensures that the FDWs themselves are able to verify with MOM that the employment agencies are bona fide."

SRC Recruitment is expected to be sentenced on April 16.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2019, with the headline 'Agency pleads guilty to casting maids in undignified light online'. Print Edition | Subscribe