Average of 160 work pass holders banned yearly for illegal work

An average of 160 work pass holders have been debarred from working in Singapore each year between 2016 and last year for working illegally.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon gave this figure yesterday in response to a question from Workers' Party MP Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC).

Dr Koh told Parliament that under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, work pass holders are allowed to work only for the official employer specified on their work pass card. It is an offence to work for any other person or business entity.

He said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) looks into complaints, tip-offs and referrals from the public as well as other public agencies on possible illegal employment of work pass holders. "At the same time, MOM also carries out proactive inspections based on our own analysis and triggers," Dr Koh added.

Mr Chua then asked how MOM has improved its processes to pick up such cases. "A lot of them would be part-time in nature, without necessarily any documentation involved, and a very recent example would be the KTV cluster where a number of them would have committed offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act," he noted.

A Covid-19 cluster involving foreign hostesses in KTV lounges and bars has since grown to more than 250 cases. It is linked to Singapore's largest community outbreak at Jurong Fishery Port, which now has over 1,000 cases.

In response, Dr Koh said MOM also undertakes educational efforts to make sure that foreign workers in Singapore understand what constitutes illegal employment or violation of their work permit conditions.

It also does engagement through other initiatives and platforms like a mandatory settling-in programme, roadshows, mobile apps and social media.

"If we do have enforcement actions being taken, especially against companies who are egregious, we do publicise them," said Dr Koh. "Because this raises awareness and serves as a deterrent to other would-be offenders, whether it's employers or employees."

He noted that work pass holders found guilty of illegal employment can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed up to two years. MOM will also debar them from working in Singapore.

Employers who employ foreigners without a valid work pass can be fined up to $30,000 and jailed up to 12 months. Their work pass privileges will also be suspended.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2021, with the headline 'Average of 160 work pass holders banned yearly for illegal work'. Subscribe