SINGAPORE - Thirteen foreign workers employed by a plant nursery were housed in a dilapidated farmhouse that was a fire hazard and had an illegally built floor.
The conditions of the makeshift two-storey shed in Choa Chu Kang Track 14 were said to be filthy, with rubbish strewn across one of the floors and pillows and mattresses that had not been changed in 10 years.
The offences came to light after the migrant workers sought assistance from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which led to the investigation of the premises.
On Monday, the company, Heng Soon Farm, was fined $57,600 for providing unacceptable accommodation to its employees.
Its director, Goh Chin Yong, pleaded guilty on its behalf to eight charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.
Separately, a company shareholder, Goh Hock Chan, 73, was fined $113,000 for deducting money from several of the workers’ salaries as a condition for their continued employment, and for aiding the sole proprietor of an orchid firm to illegally employ one of his workers. He had pleaded guilty to 11 charges on Dec 14, 2022.
MOM prosecutor Bernard Ee said the ministry received information about possible contraventions of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act by Heng Soon Farm on or around June 22, 2021.
It conducted an inspection at the company’s address the next day and found the 13 workers living in the farmhouse, despite it not having the requisite approval from MOM for workers’ quarters to be constructed there.
Mr Ee said the company failed to advise the workers on proper housekeeping, and they had slept next to a cooking area in a room on the first floor.
The workers accessed the mezzanine floor, which was constructed without approval from the authorities, by using a stepladder that was unsafe as it was not secured to the ground. The room on this floor did not have a proper entrance, and rapid evacuation may not have been possible in the event of a fire, said Mr Ee.
He said the mezzanine floor was kept in a filthy condition, with laundry hung haphazardly.
“Extension power points were also placed on the mezzanine floor with wires not being neatly kept, which rendered them both a fire hazard and a tripping hazard,” added Mr Ee.
Goh Hock Chan admitted to deducting the salaries of 10 of the 13 workers living in the farmhouse.
When they started working for the company, he would tell them they must pay him up to $1,000 for agent fees for their work permit renewal at the beginning of their employment and every two years thereafter.
The workers were not told who their employment agent was and also did not rely on an agent to obtain their jobs.
Goh Hock Chan deducted $5,000 from one of the workers and various sums of $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 from the others.
Mr Ee urged the court to fine Goh Hock Chan $129,000, saying the total amount of money he collected from the workers was significant.
Asking for the firm to be fined $64,000, he said that if the employees had not sought assistance from MOM, the offences may have gone undetected for a long time.
“The foreign employees could have suffered health issues caused by living in an unhygienic environment with the possibility of contracting diseases spread by vectors such as mosquitoes and rodents,” he added.
Goh Hock Chan’s lawyers, Mr Noor Mohamed Marican and Mr Mohd Munir Marican, who also represented Heng Soon Farm, said he has made full restitution to the workers.