Scammed by an international convenience store chain – and jailed
When Abdul, Imraan, Raman and Hari* were offered jobs in Singapore as managers in a major international convenience store chain, it felt like a dream come true…
Abdul, a father of four, sold his wife’s jewelry and took out a huge loan to pay the recruitment agency’s exorbitant fees. When he arrived in Singapore from India he was issued an Employment Pass, but when he received his first paycheck he became scared and confused. It stated that his salary was over $4000, but his employer told him that his actual salary was $1600. He had to return the difference in cash.
Abdul’s employer assured him that this was “common practice” in Singapore. The employer warned Abdul that if he reported it to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), his Employment Pass would be cancelled and he would be sent back to India. Considering the sacrifices he had made in coming to Singapore, Abdul felt as though he had no choice but to accept this arrangement.
Imraan, Raman and Hari all faced the same predicament. Imraan is the son of farmers who worked tirelessly to send their only son to school. Raman’s friends lent him the money to pay his recruitment fees. Hari got married just two months before he arrived and had hopes of earning enough money to give his new wife a comfortable life.
In 2014, all four men were called to MOM and charged with making false statements regarding their salaries. Despite the fact that they had been deceived and exploited, they were each ordered to pay fines of around $5000 to $7000 or go to prison for 33 days. Abdul borrowed the $5000 from friends, and is now burdened with an even larger debt. Imraan’s parents sold their farm and jewelry to pay the fine to save their son from going to jail. They are left with no assets. Raman could not raise the money so had to spend 33 days in jail. Hari also spent eight days in jail. HOME understands that the sub-contractor the men worked for was charged $35,000 for the violation. In contrast, the employees have lost their livelihoods and face huge debts at home.
All four men had tears in their eyes as they spoke to HOME. They asked how they could face their families now. They didn’t understand why they, the victims of a large and well-organised scam, were being punished.
HOME is aware of up to 20 employees of the same company being charged and convicted in court. HOME’s interviews with a number of these employees reveal similar patterns of deception and exploitation.
Employers falsely declare the salaries of their migrant employees in order to circumvent MOM’s quota requirements. Many low wage migrants have limited knowledge of how Singapore’s work-pass system functions, and the distinctions between the different passes. Even if they do, they often feel powerless to challenge their employer as they risk losing everything. They just want a job and to be paid.
Consequently, many workers we see at HOME are hesitant to report employers that engage in fraudulent practices. When victims of deception and exploitation are assured that they will not be prosecuted, they will be more willing to report employers who violate Singapore’s laws.
Protection from prosecution for victims is a central aspect of a successful anti-trafficking law. #stoptraffickingsg
*Not their real names