Woman charged over housing 21 workers in one apartment

A 53-year-old woman was yesterday charged in the State Courts by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for abetting an employer to house foreign workers in overcrowded private residential premises.

Zhou Fengxing faces 21 charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. If convicted, she could be jailed for up to 12 months and/or fined up to $10,000.

Zhou's company, Sino Star Enterprise, which arranges accommodation for foreign workers, faces the same number of charges under the Act, MOM and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said in a joint statement yesterday.

URA also charged Zhou and Sino Star with three counts each of unauthorised change of use of private residential units under the Planning Act, and two counts of abetting the unauthorised change of use of private residential units.

If found guilty, Zhou and Sino Star could be fined up to $200,000 on each charge.

The case was uncovered as part of MOM's enforcement efforts against foreign worker housing offences.

Investigations revealed that Sino Star was the master tenant of several units at a residential apartment block in Geylang. From March to July 2015, Zhou gave consent for Sino Star to sublet one unit to an employer to house 21 foreign workers. The unit had exceeded URA's then prevailing occupancy cap of eight people. This was revised to six people in February last year.

Apart from illegal partitions found inside, there was also overcrowding in the unit. This resulted in extremely unsanitary conditions, which compromised the well-being of the workers.

MOM ordered the employer to relocate the workers promptly. They were moved out to a purpose-built dormitory within two weeks from the date the directive was issued.

The cases against Zhou and Sino Star have been adjourned to April 24 for a further mention.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, employers are required to provide accommodation for their foreign workers which comply with the various statutory requirements. Employers who contravene any of the conditions of the work pass will be guilty of an offence.

On top of penalties imposed by the court, MOM will also bar errant employers from employing foreign workers. It will also take firm action against errant property owners or tenants who fraudulently enter into subletting arrangements with employers that result in overcrowding conditions for the foreign workers.

Under URA's regulations, private residential properties are subject to an occupancy cap of six unrelated people. All occupants must fulfil a minimum stay duration of three consecutive months.

MOM urges foreign workers who have issues with their accommodation to first raise the matter with their employer. If their employers fail to make improvements to the living conditions, they should immediately seek advice and assistance from the Migrant Workers' Centre on 6536-2692 or report the matter to MOM on 6438-5122.

Members of the public can refer foreign workers in distress to MOM at the same number, or e-mail mom_fmmd@mom.gov.sg. The information will be kept strictly confidential.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'Woman charged over housing 21 workers in one apartment'. Print Edition | Subscribe