The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) was established in 2004 to respond to the urgent needs of the migrant community in Singapore. HOME’s founder, Bridget Tan, poured her own CPF money into the creation of HOME. Her work was recognized in 2011 when she received the Hero Acting to End Modern-day Slavery Award from the U.S. Department of State.
In 2010, Singapore set up its Inter-Agency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons (the “Taskforce”). Since then, HOME has urged Singapore to ratify the Palermo Protocol and HOME’s was a loud voice in the campaign to ensure that Singapore enacted a dedicated anti-human trafficking law. HOME is convinced that Singapore can combat human trafficking only if law enforcers have an anti-human trafficking law that provides a comprehensive victim protection framework.
HOME welcomes this opportunity to provide information on Singapore’s fulfillment of the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons.
- GENERAL COMMENTS ON SINGAPORE’S FULFILMENT OF THE MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR THE ELIMINATION OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The key change to Singapore’s anti-human trafficking landscape in 2014 was the introduction of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2014 (“the Act”) on 29 December 2014 (Appendix D). HOME would also like to note the 2013 establishment of the Taskforce’s case referral process. HOME welcomes, and acknowledges, both these developments as crucial steps towards addressing the problem of trafficking in persons in Singapore.
However, HOME would like to emphasise four key points in this submission:
- Although the introduction of the Act is a positive step, HOME does not believe that it goes far enough to successfully address the issue of trafficking in persons in Singapore and does not fulfill the minimum standards;
- For 362 days in 2014, Singapore did not have a dedicated anti-human trafficking law and this doubtlessly impacted the country’s ability to fulfill the minimum standards;
- The Government continues to rely heavily on self-funded NGOs to provide essential services to victims of trafficking; and
- Many of the initiatives set forth in the National Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons 2012-2015 (“National Plan of Action”) have not, as at December 2014, been achieved, and in fact, some appear to have been abandoned.
As a result of these key shortcomings, it is HOME’s opinion that in 2014 Singapore did not successfully fulfill the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons. The reasons for this are set out in more detail in section 3 below, which addresses the US Department of State’s specific questions.
- INFORMATION RELEVANT TO FULFILMENT OF THE MINIMUM STANDARDS
1. How have trafficking methods changed in the past 12 months? For example, are victims from new countries of origin? Is internal trafficking or child trafficking increasing? Has sex trafficking changed from brothels to private apartments? Is labor trafficking now occurring in additional types of industries or agricultural operations? Is forced begging a problem?
A notable change that HOME saw in 2014 was the introduction of increasing numbers of domestic workers from Cambodia and Myanmar. These workers are often isolated due to language and technology barriers (such as access to mobile phones), and are thus especially vulnerable to exploitation. The entry of Myanmar workers is despite a ban issued by the Myanmar Government on foreign domestic workers travelling to Singapore to work (due to concerns about ill-treatment and abuse of domestic workers in Singapore). Singapore continues to approve work permits for Myanmar FDWs.
There has been no discernable change to the widespread practice of agents located inside Singapore and/or home countries demanding excessive recruitment and travel fees such that victims become indebted to the new employers/agents. These fees are inflated far beyond cost such that they create economic instability and dependency on employers in Singapore. The work permit system continues to tie foreign workers to their employer in Singapore.
In HOME’s experience, some employers and agents exploit the non-transferability of work visas, as well as workers’ lack of familiarity with surroundings, laws and rights, language fluency, and cultural understanding in order to control and manipulate workers. Passport confiscation and contract substitution remain widespread and largely accepted practices.
- In what ways has the government’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons changed in the past year? What new laws, regulations, policies, and implementation strategies exist (e.g., substantive criminal laws and procedures, mechanisms for civil remedies, and victim-witness security, generally, and in relation to court proceedings)?
Singapore introduced its first dedicated anti-human trafficking legislation on 29 December 2014. The Government engaged in public consultation before introducing the bill, but the text of the draft bill was not available during the consultations. The bill was passed without any amendments on 3 November 2014.
HOME would like to make two key points regarding the Act:
- The Act did not apply for much of 2014
The Act was only in force for 3 days of 2014. Before the commencement of the Act on 29 December 2014, Singapore relied on the Criminal Code and other laws specific to women and children to prosecute trafficking in persons offences.
The lack of a dedicated anti-human trafficking law for most of 2014 was problematic. There were a number of “gaps” in the legislative framework, including unequal treatment of male and female victims, a lack of extra-territorial operation of laws, no clear statement of the irrelevance of victim consent in trafficking cases and insufficient coverage of labour trafficking offences. Labour trafficking was inadequately addressed by existing employment laws. In HOME’s opinion, the reasons for which are detailed in our answers to later questions, these gaps made the legal framework that was in place for 362 days of 2014 insufficient in practice.
Singapore MP Mr. Christopher de Souza acknowledged these “gaps and inconsistencies” and the need for “comprehensive framework” and to adopt “consistent definitions and penalties” when seeking public consultation on the proposal to introduce the bill. Subsequently, however, in responding to the public’s response to the bill, Mr. de Souza said this:
“While we understand the desire for the Bill to comprehensively cover various situations where workers are mistreated, many of these wrongs are already addressed by existing employment laws which provide deterrent penalties against errant employers as well as avenues of redress to the workers. These levers can be reviewed to better address the concerns raised. This approach ensures that the Bill remains focused at targeting genuine egregious trafficking cases.”
It is now unclear to HOME whether the Government intends for the new Act to be comprehensive and consistent across all trafficking cases, or limited to egregious (undefined) trafficking cases while “lesser” trafficking cases remain prosecuted under the local criminal system.
- The Act has inherent weaknesses
HOME perceives that the Act has four main weaknesses:
- a lack of clear definitions of elements of trafficking in persons, or definitions that markedly vary from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Model Law;
- a failure to explicitly cover attempted exploitation of victims; and
- the lack of a victim-centric approach; and
- inadequate victim support measures.
These concerns are briefly outlined below. For more detail, please see HOME’s Position Paper on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill (Appendix A) and the StopTraffickingSG Critique of the Draft Bill (Appendix B).
- Definitions at issue:
- “Abuse of position of Vulnerability” This definition is limited to legal, physical and only those mental vulnerabilities that rise to the level of mental illness or disability. The UNODC Model Law provision which include vulnerability caused by being in a precarious situation from the standpoint of social survival is not included in the Singapore Act. HOME is concerned about this omission as vulnerability caused by social and economic weakness is the leading source of vulnerability among the victims HOME sees.
- “Coercion” Psychological pressure has been omitted as a form of “coercion”. HOME is concerned about this omission because the threat of humiliation or embarrassment in their home countries is a frequent form of coercion used by employers in order to force employees to continue to work, whether as sex workers or domestic workers.
- “Deception” is not defined. Unclear whether Act will consider deception to include conditions as well as the nature of the work.
- “Forced Labour” is not defined. HOME is gravely concerned about this omission because forced labour is the most common form of exploitation among the cases that HOME handles and the lack of definition greatly hinders our ability to have these cases classified as TIP cases.
- Attempted Exploitation.
It is unclear to HOME whether the Act will be applicable when exploitation has been attempted by the perpetrators but the exploitative purpose has not yet materialized. HOME has had at least one case rejected by the Taskforce because the exploitation was only attempted and did not materialize. Please see Appendix A (page 10) for another case study example.
- Lack of Victim Centered Approach.
- The introduction of a legally mandated victim-centered approach to investigation and prosecution of trafficking offences in Singapore was a key recommendation in the United States Department of State’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report (“2013 TIP Report”). HOME strongly supported this recommendation, and advised the drafters of the Bill that a victim-centered approach would be central to the success of the Act in preventing human trafficking.
- As highlighted in the 2013 TIP Report, Singapore places an undue burden on victims of trafficking. The new Act presented an opportunity to alleviate this burden but it failed to do so.
- The Act simply provides for protection of identities of victims of sexual exploitation and the discretion for the Director of Social Welfare to provide temporary shelter and counselling services to victims. In fact, no effective shelter or counselling services have been established by the Government and the provision of such services remain essentially in the hands of NGOs and some foreign embassies.
- Inadequate victim support measures
- The Act does not provide for a transparent system of victim identification, support and protection.
- Victims of trafficking still do not have a legally mandated right to:
- Protection measures, including:
- the right to be treated as victim during the identification process,
- immediate authorization of temporary residency upon reporting to the authorities,
- not be prosecuted for legal infractions committed while trafficked,
- give informed consent to participation in investigations, protection and privacy, and
- legal assistance at no cost; or
- Support measures, including:
- the right to decent work opportunity,
- a recovery period after reporting,
- access to physical and
- psycho-social recovery services/facilities, and
- return to country of origin; or
- Special support for victims who are minors.
- The victims’ rights framework in the Act does not align with law of countries in the region, including that of Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Australia. HOME has undertaken a comparison of victims’ rights frameworks across Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Australia, as well as the USA. This comparison is at Appendix A.
- Please provide observations regarding the implementation of existing laws and procedures.
HOME is not aware of any cases under the new Act. The following observations relate to the legislation/framework in place during 2014.
Under the Taskforce’s case referral framework implemented in 2013, HOME referred 18 cases between August 2013 and December 2014. Of these, 6 were accepted as TIP cases and 8 were rejected. The other 4 cases remain pending. Since June 2014, the Taskforce has not assessed a single case referred by HOME as a TIP case.
- Observations regarding “rejected” cases:
- 2 cases were sex worker cases, the remaining 7 cases were forced labor cases. Of these, 5 were domestic worker cases and 2 were Indian/Sri Lankan males brought to Singapore under the pretense of high-paying store or similar jobs.
- Several of the cases that were rejected as they were not “forced labour” cases share a significant number of indicators with both cases used by the Taskforce to as case studies of trafficking cases and cases accepted by the Taskforce as TIP cases prior to June 2014.
- In the case of these rejections, the Taskforce often acknowledges deception and/or physical abuse, but takes the view that the deception and/or abuse was not for the purpose of forced labor. As these cases are typically domestic worker cases, it is not clear to HOME what other purpose there might be for the deception and abuse.
- Despite the Taskforce’s rejection of these cases which HOME believe satisfy many ILO standards of forced labour, the Taskforce has not provided their working definition of the term or other insight into their reasoning.
- Observations regarding “accepted” cases:
- Of the 5 accepted cases, 3 were sex worker cases and 2 were domestic worker cases.
- When cases are accepted by the Taskforce, HOME is simply advised that the case has been accepted but no reasoning is provided. This lack of transparency means that in the 18 months of case referrals, HOME has gained little insight into the Taskforce’s approach to guide and assist us when making referrals.
- General observations regarding the Taskforce:
- The guidelines and definitions under which the Taskforce assess and accept/reject cases is not available.
- HOME has limited communication with the Taskforce, and the lack of transparency of their working guidelines hinders the process of referring cases to the Taskforce.
- The Taskforce can take many months to accept or reject a case. HOME has cases referred back as far as May 2014 in respect of which the Taskforce has issued no assessment. During this time, the victim might be living in an NGO shelter without income, counselling or other victim services.
- Observations regarding prosecution following acceptance by the Taskforce:
- Cases enter the general court system and can take as long as 1-3 years to be heard/resolved.
- It is often difficult for victims to return home if authorities are pursuing the case, as they will usually be holding the victim’s passport. In all of the HOME referrals that the Taskforce has “accepted”, the victim has been required to remain in Singapore pending the outcome of investigations and prosecution.
Is the government equally vigorous in pursuing labor trafficking and sex trafficking?
HOME believes that sex trafficking is pursued significantly more vigorously than other forms of trafficking. HOME takes this view because of the number of sex cases accepted by the Taskforce compared with labour cases. HOME also understands that police have been conducting raids in red light districts but has seen no corresponding crackdown on employment agents or employers which are complicit in forced labour cases.
- Are the anti-trafficking laws and sentences strict enough to reflect the nature of the crime?
Yes, penalties under the Act are strict.
- Do government officials understand the nature of trafficking? If not, please provide examples of misconceptions or misunderstandings.
In HOME’s opinion, government officials misunderstand trafficking in two major ways:
- Forced Labour Definition.
In HOME’s experience, the Taskforce appears to have a tendency to reject forced labor cases on the basis that the purpose of the means was not forced labour. This is despite many ILO elements of forced labour being present.
For example, in a domestic worker case where HOME found extreme physical abuse, restriction of movement of the worker, withholding wages and retention of passports and identity documents, the case was rejected. The Taskforce’s view is that elements of trafficking (such as debt bondage) are open to a number of interpretations and cases need to be assessed holistically to determine whether trafficking occurred.
HOME acknowledges the Taskforce’s view, but submits that it is imperative that clear definitions and elements of trafficking are set out in the Act. Differing interpretations and holistic assessments have the potential to lead to opaque and inconsistent applications of the law.
Prosecution of “complicit” victims.
HOME has been advised by the Taskforce that if workers work illegally for a protracted (undefined) period of time, they will prosecuted by the local authorities. This might despite the victims having their legal, financial and social vulnerabilities abused by their employers and being subjected to extreme psychological coercion such as the threat of being reported or sent home.
This advice would indicate a lack of understanding of the vulnerability of these victims, and the effectiveness of the abuse and coercion carried out in these cases.
- Do judges appear appropriately knowledgeable and sensitized to trafficking cases? What sentences have courts imposed upon traffickers? How common are suspended sentences and prison time of less than one year for convicted traffickers?
No cases have yet been prosecuted under the Act. Accordingly, HOME has no response to question
- Please provide observations regarding the efforts of police and prosecutors to pursue trafficking cases.
To date, trafficking cases have been dealt with under the existing criminal justice system and lengthy delays are inherent. This is problematic for traumatised victims who are required to remain in Singapore, often without work and always without their families.
In sex trafficking cases, it is HOME’s general observation that the police will actively pursue a case if the victim has never been involved in sex work before being trafficked into Singapore.
In HOME’s experience, the police generally do not handle labour trafficking cases unless violence involved. There has still never been a prosecution for labour trafficking in Singapore.
- – 13. Questions 9 to 13
Due partly to a lack of published statistics, HOME has no responses to questions 9 to 13.
- Does the government make a coordinated, proactive effort to identify victims? Is there any screening conducted before deportation to determine whether individuals were trafficked?
Police are known to conduct “raids” of red-light districts and HOME is advised that training is underway for front-line police officers to identify TIP victims. HOME understands that the training was only for 2 hours, and was conducted by another NGO which has limited grassroots experience in this sector in Singapore.
Cases referred to HOME are screened before individuals are deported. The Taskforce was set up to work with numerous Government agencies on trafficking issues. However, HOME is not aware of any systematic screening process within the Police, Ministry of Manpower or Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to determine whether individuals were trafficked. For example, HOME is aware of a domestic worker who was trafficked in Singapore, but who was repatriated without detection. With the assistance of her country of origin’s employment agency, she returned to Singapore to report her case.
- What victim services are provided (legal, medical, food, shelter, interpretation, mental health care, health care, employment, training, etc.)? Who provides these services? If nongovernment organizations provide the services, does the government support their work either financially or otherwise?
There are a few Government-run shelters in Singapore, but HOME runs the only dedicated shelter for victims of trafficking. This shelter is funded by a private corporate donor and the Government rejected our partnership invitation, declining to assist with funding HOME’s shelter for victims of trafficking and exploitation.
On paper, there are counselling services available for example from the Singapore Mental Health Association. But these are often not culturally appropriate as they do not staff workers who can communicate in the victim’s native tongue.
In some instances, the Government has provided suggestions of service providers and offered a “buddy” police officer (who had been specially trained but was not a professional counsellor/mental health worker).
The Government does not typically address gender sensitivities when dealing with victims of sex trafficking and male officers may be assigned to the female victims. It seems that victims of sex trafficking are not offered the same services and support that victims of domestic rape cases are, despite infrastructure and trained personnel being available.
The Ministry of Manpower allows some trafficked persons to find employment in Singapore, but does not assist them to find work or keep their job (see response Question 21). Furthermore, no training program exists.
Singapore Police Force usually provides interpreters during interviews with victims. However, HOME has received various complains of migrants workers stating that they have received poor advice of their interpreters such as accepting charges that they denied. Furthermore, the Government largely relies on NGOs like HOME to provide all other services to victims.
Access to affordable legal services is very limited for foreign victims of crime, so HOME relies on a panel of pro bono lawyers to provide support.
Singapore is one of the most well-resourced and efficiently managed countries in the world and has ample means to provide the lacking services and, indeed, to provide them in a manner which would make an enormous difference to victims of trafficking. Yet, despite the National Plan of Action, there has been no improvement or expansion to the services provided to victims.
NGOs are often left with the task of providing essential services and bear the cost of doing so. In one case, HOME was sent a bill for medical expenses for a worker who was referred to our shelter by the Police and assessed by us as a TIP victim. The Police would not cover these expenses but after some discussion, the hospital agreed to waive the fees.
- How could victim services be improved?
Please refer to Question 2 and Appendix A.
- Are services provided equally and adequately to victims of labor and sex trafficking? Men, women, and children? Citizen and noncitizen? Members of the LGBT community?
Services provided by the Government to victims of trafficking do not currently extend beyond police interpreters during the interview process – interpreters are available to all who need them.
- Do service providers and law enforcement work together cooperatively, for instance, to share information about trafficking trends or to plan for services after a raid? What is the level of cooperation, communication, and trust between service providers and law enforcement?
Generally, the Taskforce is neither transparent nor forthcoming with advice or feedback regarding cases. HOME will generally not be updated on the progress of cases due to them being classified as subject to ‘ongoing’ investigation. Victims are also rarely updated. When a case is rejected by the Taskforce, HOME might receive an email with few sentences setting forth the reasons for the rejection. No reasons are given when a case is accepted.
The Taskforce held a meeting with NGOs during the consultation process on the bill in early 2014, at which it shared some case statistics. However, despite requests, no regular meetings have been set up with the civil society.
Police and Ministry of Manpower are generally responsive to our requests for assistance in terms of assisting workers who require immediate assistance to protect them from physical harm or to claim unpaid wages.
- May victims file civil suits or seek legal action against their trafficker? Do victims avail themselves of those remedies?
Yes and yes, as HOME is assisting some victims to do so. However, victims face a number of difficulties. Civil cases are typically only pursued once criminal cases are complete. As this can take several years, most victims return home to their own country once the criminal case is complete. Remaining in Singapore is difficult because foreigners’ ability to work is limited, and there are very limited victim support services. Moreover, victims might have difficulties to file civil suits or seek legal action against their trafficker as access to pro bono legal representation is limited. HOME is not aware of a successful compensation claim by a victim of trafficking against their employer in 2014.
- Does the government repatriate victims who wish to return home? Does the government assist with third country resettlement? Does the government engage in any analysis of whether victims may face retribution or hardship upon repatriation to their country of origin? Are victims awaiting repatriation or third country resettlement offered services? Are victims indeed repatriated or are they deported?
All foreigners are repatriated if they do not remain in Singapore on a work pass – settlement is not an option. As far as HOME is aware, there is no analysis of victims’ situation/prospects once they return home or referral to services in the country of origin. Victims’ inability to return home by choice if they are required to remain in Singapore to assist with investigations is highly problematic and traumatic for some victims.
In our experience, the authorities do not assist with third country resettlement. HOME is not aware of any risk analysis of repatriation or referral process to services in the country of origin by authorities. This is problematic due to debt collectors and the endemic practice of “recycling” returned workers who have not paid their debts in countries like Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar. HOME has participated to the creation of a network providing legal and other services to migrant workers and trafficked persons. Whenever suitable, HOME refers cases for assistance to its NGO partners in the sending countries.
- Does the government inappropriately detain or imprison identified trafficking victims?
Victims may be required to remain in the country in order to testify and victims who are deemed to be complicit may be imprisoned.
- Victim “Detention”:
Investigation processes in Singapore are typically lengthy, often lasting years. The Singapore Government requires victims who are key witnesses to remain in the country. Victims passports might be held by Police, Ministry of Manpower, employment agencies or employers and victims are expected to stay in Singapore with no financial support, no ability to support their families in their home countries and no livelihood.
In HOME’s experience, only some victims are eligible to work under the Temporary Job Scheme (“TJS”). Under TJS, victims from “approved source countries” may be granted the authorization to work temporarily in Singapore. However:
- many victims of trafficking are from countries that are not approved source countries, such as Vietnam. Such victims are discriminated against, as the TJS does not apply to them;
- In addition, TJS does not generally allow victims to work in a sector other than that into which they were trafficked. For example, a trafficked and abused domestic worker would only have the option of working as a domestic worker. In HOME’s experience, the prospect of entering a different employer’s home to continue working as a domestic worker is traumatic for domestic worker victims. They must be provided a viable opportunity to earn a living in a sector that will not cause them undue additional trauma.
This places the burden of the crime on the victims. It unfairly discriminates against victims from countries that are not “approved source countries”. It also undermines the effectiveness of any anti-trafficking laws, as victims are hesitant to report their cases as an investigation will effectively trap them in Singapore with no livelihood.
- Complicit Victims Imprisonment
HOME is aware of cases in which victims of trafficking have been prosecuted for being complicit in the offences that occurred as a result.
For example, HOME assisted more than 30 workers involved in a scam involving work in an international grocery store chain:
- Workers were granted entry into Singapore on the employment passes and promised salaries about $4000, only to discover upon arrival that they would only be receiving a much lower sum (usually around $1800).
- Some workers were coerced to sign a declaration (in English) stating that they accepted these conditions upon arrival in Singapore.
- Some workers were threatened with exposure of their immigrant/legal status and combined with their extreme financial vulnerability, many continued to work despite the low wages and legal risks. The workers were ultimately exposed and prosecuted.
In the court hearings, the burden of proof was on the workers themselves, to demonstrate that they did not know of the scheme in order to be treated as innocent.
All workers were found guilty. Punishments included fines, jail time and repatriation. Their employers faced fines between SGD 8000-56000 (USD 5946- 41622). An amount that an online article demonstrated to be significantly lower that the gains they had reaped from the scheme.
In the press release issued by the Ministry of Manpower, personal information related to workers was disclosed (full names, passport numbers, addresses etc.) while the full details of their employers were not.
Arguments of being duped or being oblivious to the arrangement were dismissed on account that many of the workers were well-educated.
There was no consideration of whether they might have been psychologically abused or subject to coercion
- Does the government punish trafficking victims for forgery of documents, illegal immigration, unauthorized employment, or participation in illegal activities directed by the trafficker?
See Question 21.
- What efforts has the government made to prevent human trafficking?
In 2014, the Government enacted the Act, conducted limited police training, established referral mechanisms to the Taskforce to review cases forwarded by NGOs and made a grant to organisations to engage in public awareness campaign. However, this grant only covered half of the expense; the grantee had to match the Taskforce’s contribution. In HOME’s opinion, to date these efforts have not had discernable, practical impact on the prevention of trafficking. Individuals continue to be trafficked in Singapore.
- Has the government entered into effective bilateral, multilateral, or regional information-sharing and cooperation arrangements that have resulted in concrete and measureable outcomes?
HOME is not aware of any arrangements that have resulted in concrete and measurable outcomes. Despite efforts by workers’ home countries to combat trafficking and exploitation, foreign laws are not upheld in Singapore.
For example, almost all domestic workers who come from the Philippines sign a standard contract in the Philippines mandating a day off, a minimum salary and a zero placement fee clause. Almost all of these contracts are substituted with less favourable contracts once the worker arrives in Singapore. Agents direct employers to sign both contracts. HOME has raised this issue with the Ministry of Manpower but is not aware of any action that has been taken to address it by authorities in Singapore.
- Does the country have effective policies or laws regulating foreign labor recruiters?
Not in HOME’s opinion. HOME sees this is a weakness in the system as employment agents are typically the first, and often only, point of contact the victim has in Singapore. Agents are not required to take any steps to (i) educate, protect, follow up with etc. employees, (ii) screen employers, (iii) report employers they suspect of conducting trafficking practices (and often send victims back to employers when their assistance is sought). The employment agencies are instrumental in the widespread practice of contract substitution, excessive debt, passport confiscation and withholding workers’ mobile phones.
HOME handled a case in 2014 where a domestic worker had been physically abused by her employer. The victim had visited her agent and complained of the abuse. The victim’s bruises on her face were evident. The agent returned the victim to her employer. In referring the case to the authorities, HOME highlighted the agent’s attitude, however, HOME is not aware of any action taken against the agent.
The Employment Agencies Act states that agents may not charge the worker a fee exceeding one month of her salary for each year of the contract term, subject to a maximum of two months’ salary. However, it is routine for domestic workers to be charged in excess of 6 months. In HOME’s experience, it would be a rare exception to see the 2 month rule adhered to. Despite this widespread, flagrant abuse of the law, HOME is not aware of a single enforcement action taken against employment agents. Agents claim that the extra months are not fees but private loans, or were charged by agents in the sending countries. HOME sees this issue as a trafficking issue because the excessive debt the workers are forced to assume as part of the inflated fees contribute greatly to their need to continue working despite facing unacceptable work hours and abuse.
Despite employment agents being involved with every worker who enters the country, HOME is not aware of any action being taken against an agent solely in their capacity as such, with the exception of situations where agent is also employer.
- Does the government undertake activities that could prevent or reduce vulnerability to trafficking, such as registering births of indigenous populations?
HOME has no response to question 26.
- Does the government provide financial support to NGOs working to promote public awareness or does the government implement such campaigns itself? Have public awareness campaigns proven to be effective?
Singapore authorities run no public awareness campaigns. The Government does have a public awareness grant available each year, but it’s a matching grant, so NGOs must be in a position to spend the same amount of money as the Government does on the campaign they undertake. HOME and the Singapore Committee for UN Women jointly received $23,500 to raise awareness in the business community between July 2013 and June 2014. HOME and its partners undertook this campaign with vigor. However, despite the National Plan of Action calling for the Taskforce to forge “partnerships with NGOs… [to] assist the Taskforce to maximize outreach and tap into all available resources within society,” the Government provided minimal non-financial support and did not assist to reach out to relevant Government agencies in areas such as tourism and hospitality. It is HOME’s view that without some show of support and collaboration from the Government, corporate employers will remain reluctant to engage with NGOs who are pressing for changes the exploitative approach of some sectors in Singapore.
HOME’s application to raise awareness of the risks of trafficking among migrant worker communities in June 2014 was not accepted.
- Please provide additional recommendations to improve the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
- Strengthen the Act
HOME refers you to the answer to Question 2. HOME believes that the absence of a victim-centric approach and the absence (or variation from the UNDOC Model Law) of key definitions in the Act need to be rectified in order for the Act to have a measurable impact on the governments anti trafficking efforts.
- Strengthen Employment Laws
Additionally, HOME would like to see the recommendations set forth in our October 2013 submission to the Government in respect of amendments to local employment laws (see Appendix C) fully implemented. Briefly, these recommendations included:
- Increasing the protection against exploitative practices relating to overtime, leave, salary, work conditions, safety conditions etc.
- Requiring employment contracts to be provided to the workers in their own language and before they leave their own country in order to ensure that their acceptance of the terms is in fact a true acceptance.
- Extending the Employment Act to cover domestic workers such that their rights are equal to other employees in the country. Their exclusion from this basic and fundamental Act leaves them greatly expose.
- Permitting foreign workers to change employers without consent from their existing employers.
- Adhere to the National Plan of Action
In 2010, Singapore put together a National Plan of Action which was to guide the Taskforce in its necessary steps to fight TIP in the years from 2012 to 2015. In HOME’s view, there are many fundamental initiatives set forth in the Plan, which, as of December 2014, have not been achieved, and in fact, appear to have been abandoned. Set forth below is a brief commentary on some of these initiatives:
|Initiative||Assessment of current outcome|
|Consider adopting international standards on combating TIP and adopting Palermo Protocol.||Singapore not a signatory if the Palermo Protocol and the Act has abandoned several, key internationally accepted definitions.|
|Embark on various forms of public education, outreach and campaigns to raise awareness of TIP.||Provides public awareness grants on a “matching” basis, but limited collaboration with grant recipients to achieve results. .|
|Study feasibility of toll free hotlines||No specific hotlines have been set up.|
|Fast track investigation and prosecution of serious or aggravated TIP cases||To our knowledge, no TIP cases have been heard in court, and cases that HOME considers tantamount to TIP cases generally take 1-3 years to be prosecuted.|
|Enhancement of victim care system, review shelter provisions and re entry to home countries, review provision of legal assistance, review access to work facilitation and training for victims, facilitate the entry and return of victims to their home countries in partnership with civil societies and other governments.||As the review of each of these areas of victim services was due for completion in 2014 and there has been no change to the services provided to victims, HOME has to assume that following its review, Singapore has decided against providing protection and care to victims of TIP, preferring to leave such services in the hands of the underfunded NGOS.|
|Engagement with foreign countries||HOME is not aware of any effective engagement.|
|Partner with NGOs on outreach, research and capacity building, engage businesses on CSR for the prevention of TIP in supply chains||True partnership activities have been limited. The Taskforce relies on NGOs for information, referrals, to provide support and services to victims and to self-fund and deliver awareness campaigns.|
- Please highlight effective strategies and practices that other governments could consider adopting.
In 2012, HOME undertook a study of trafficking indicators among domestic workers in Singapore. In line with the recommendations made in this report, HOME recommends that the governments of source countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia could:
- Harmonise existing domestic legislation with the relevant obligations recently assumed under international instruments including the ILO Domestic Workers Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families;
- Engage with the government of Singapore to seek better cross-border enforcement of the protections granted to FDWs under domestic legislation and the improvement of the protections offered by Singapore legislation;
- Implement awareness-raising programs, in partnership with civil society organisations both in the home and receiving countries, through which (a) future workers can learn about their rights under domestic legislation prior to departure, and (b) employment agents are made fully aware of their obligations and responsibilities;
- Ensure the adequacy and availability of diplomatic and consular protection provided by the relevant embassy in Singapore to FDWs, including provision of interpreters, medical care, counselling, legal aid and shelter where necessary;
- Where relevant, extend the scope of domestic anti-trafficking legislation to enable the extra-territorial application of its provisions so as to better protect nationals from trafficking into countries such as Singapore; and
- Resist any approaches by Singapore employment agents calling for domestic protection of the rights of FDWs when working in receiving countries to be relaxed.
- LIST OF APPENDICES
Appendix A: HOME Position Paper on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill,18 April 2014;
Appendix B: Critique of the Draft Bill by StopTraffickingSG, a coalition of NGO partners including HOME, 21 0ctober 2014;
Appendix C: HOME Submission to Ministry of Manpower on proposed amendments to Employment Legislation, 30 October 2013;
Appendix D: Prevention of Human Trafficking Act 2014.
 MO Christopher de Souza, Public Consultation on the “Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill” (2014) available at http://mom.gov.sg/Documents/press-releases/2014/TIP%20Annex.pdf. Note that no draft text of the bill was provided during consultations.
 MP Christopher de Souza, Response to Public Feedback on Private Member’s Bill on the Prevention of Human Trafficking (25 May 2014) available at http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=MzE3OQ%3D%3D-Xh1WT7v%2Bq1o%3D.
 Available at http://home.org.sg/assets/2012-fdw-trafficking-research-report.pdf . #stoptraffickingsg