MOM orders Five Stars Tours to pay wages owing to ex-staff

Defunct travel agency Five Stars Tours has been ordered by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to pay wages owing to 108 of its former staff.

It has been set a Feb 5 deadline to do so after a four-hour inquiry chaired by the Assistant Commissioner of Labour at MOM's Bendeemer premises on Thursday.

"One hundred and eight claimants and their former employer agreed on the amount of salaries owed," a spokesman said. "The responsibility to pay the salaries rests on the employer."

The ministry did not specify the amount of wages owed, but Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the total was more than $300,000.

Five Stars Tours, which began operating in 1990, suddenly ceased operations on Jan 8, taking both employees and customers by surprise.

The company's website had claimed it grew from one outlet at The Adelphi to eight branches with more than 200 employees. It started out with a focus on selling express bus services to Malaysia, but later diversified into cruises, air travel and tailor-made round-the-world tour packages.

Its closure affected at least 3,000 travellers. Many of them, especially those who had booked bus tickets to Malaysia for Chinese New Year, have been left scrambling to make alternative travel plans.

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), said that as of yesterday, the consumer watchdog had received 782 complaints from Five Stars customers saying they had not been issued refunds.

Mr Seah said Case is of the view that refunds should be made for tours which have "yet to occur".

"We understand that the company is yet to be liquidated and therefore the directors should make every effort to refund the monies to consumers as soon as possible," he added.