A housewife whose maids were spotted last year perched on a two-storey scaffold while working on the facade of her Cluny Park house was fined $46,000 yesterday.
Singaporean Willow Phua Brest, 46, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to four counts of failing to provide safe working conditions for her two Indonesian maids, Ms Karsinah, 39, and Ms Dati, 43.
She also admitted that she had unlawfully asked Ms Karsinah to perform tasks as a scaffolder and maintenance worker, the court heard.
The Straits Times understands that this is the first case in which a person has been convicted of breaching work pass conditions involving the work safety of maids, after the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act was amended in 2012 with enhanced penalties.
A similar case involving one Belinda Huber, also known as Belinda Tran, 35, was brought to court this May.
Ministry of Manpower (MOM) prosecutor Shanty Priya said that the scaffold was erected at Brest's house on Oct 9 last year so that the second-storey windows could be cleaned.
The housewife then allowed her two maids to climb onto the structure to clean the windows. The Indonesians performed the task on Oct 11 and 13, with the help of safety belts, masks, gloves and an extended wiper.
Another woman faces similar charge
A 35-year-old woman has been taken to court after she allegedly failed to provide safe working conditions for her maid between early June and July 4 last year.
Belinda Huber, also known as Belinda Tran, is accused of asking Ms Taculad Rose Mae Mata to clean the glass ceiling on the second storey of her Goldhill Avenue house, off Dunearn Road.
The maid's nationality was not stated in court documents.
She allegedly asked the maid to do so on four separate occasions.
Huber, who faces one charge, first appeared in court in May.
She will be back on Aug 16.
If convicted of committing the offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, she can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $10,000.
However, Ms Shanty told District Judge Adam Nakhoda that the safety belts Brest provided were not sufficient to prevent or reduce the severity of injuries to the maids if they slipped off the scaffold, and the Indonesians were also not trained to work at height.
That same month, contractors delivered to Brest's home components for another scaffold.
Investigations revealed that she then asked Ms Karsinah to perform tasks as a scaffolder and maintenance worker.
On Oct 20 last year, Brest asked Ms Karsinah to help her erect the scaffold, even though the work pass did not permit the maid to perform the task. They took about three hours to set up the 4.5m-tall structure.
After assessing that the scaffold was stable, the housewife asked Ms Karsinah to stand on it to sand, varnish and paint a wooden wall at the back of her house.
Ms Shanty said the scaffold did not have the required features such as proper guardrails.
In mitigation, defence lawyer Shashi Nathan told the court that there was no evidence that his client had forced the maids to step onto the scaffold, adding that Brest had a good relationship with the maids. Ms Dati has since returned to Indonesia, while Ms Karsinah is now working for another household here.
Commenting on the Brest case, the director of well-being at MOM's foreign manpower management division, Ms Jeanette Har, said: "We will take stern actions against employers who do not take their responsibilities seriously, especially so when it comes to the safety of their foreign domestic workers."