About 190 employers penalised yearly between 2015 and 2019 for underpaying foreign staff

Pastry chain Twelve Cupcakes was fined $119,500 last month for underpaying seven of its foreign employees. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - About 190 employers were taken to task every year between 2015 and 2019 for underpaying their foreign employees, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a written reply to Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 2).

This is up from the annual average of 60 who were penalised between 2010 and 2014.

The increase in number is a result of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) stepping up education efforts to encourage foreign workers to report irregularities in their salaries, as well as the ministry improving its ability to detect such offences, said Mrs Teo.

Most of the cases between 2010 and 2019 did not involve employment agencies, she said in response to questions from Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai.

Enforcement action was taken against six licensed employment agencies over this 10-year period, she added.

"In some cases, underpayment was done simply by paying their foreign employees a lower salary. Some tried to avoid leaving any paper trail by crediting full declared salaries to the foreign employees and requiring the employees to return a portion back to them in the form of electronic transfers or in cash," she said.

"There is no excuse for underpayment of any employee, foreign or local," said Mrs Teo, adding that MOM will continue to take strong surveillance and enforcement action against errant employers and other parties who abetted the offences.

Her comments come after home-grown pastry chain Twelve Cupcakes was fined $119,500 last month for underpaying seven of its foreign employees, including one worker who received only about half the wages at times.

The company was convicted on Dec 10 last year of 15 counts of underpaying the employees in 2017 and 2018 - an offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

The chain was founded in 2011 by former radio DJ Daniel Ong Ming Yu, 45, and his then wife, Jaime Teo Chai-lin, 43. Five years later, Kolkata-based company Dhunseri Group acquired the chain for $2.5 million.

Ong and Teo allegedly allowed the chain to underpay the wages of their foreign employees between 2013 and 2016.

There were also instances of some workers who, for periods between 2012 and 2013, purportedly did not receive any income.

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