THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is proposing swifter punishment, higher fines and longer jail terms for bosses who break the law in employing foreign workers.
As foreign-labour policies are tightened, it said yesterday that employers could be tempted to get around the rules and, say, hire more foreign workers than allowed.
This reduces job opportunities for Singaporeans and gives errant businesses an unfair advantage, it added.
· Greater powers to investigate
These include the power to enter and search company premises by force, if there is 'reasonable belief' that the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act has been breached.
· Presumption clauses
The introduction of this clause means officers responsible for recruiting or managing foreign workers will be presumed to have knowledge of any actions under their purview that infringe the Act.
· Minimum fines and stiffer penalties
Minimum fines will be introduced for certain actions. For instance, illegally employing foreign workers will incur a minimum fine of $5,000. Maximum fines and jail terms will also be raised.
· Differentiating regulatory breaches and criminal offences
All infringements of the Act are currently considered criminal offences. Re-classifying some as regulatory breaches will let action be taken faster, as prosecution will not be required.
· New infringements
Actions previously prosecuted as a sub-type of another offence will now stand alone. These include receiving kickbacks from foreign workers, and making Central Provident Fund contributions to 'phantom' local workers in order to hire more foreigners.
It also wants powers to forcibly enter and search company premises if it suspects wrongdoing.
Foreign workers, who make up about 36 per cent of Singapore's labour force, will also not get off lightly either if they flout the law.
The ministry is now seeking public feedback on the proposed changes to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. The plan to toughen the Act was first announced by Minister of State (Manpower) Tan Chuan-Jin in March.
MOM wants to raise penalties and introduce minimum fines for some offences. For instance, illegally employing foreign workers will incur a minimum fine of $5,000.
There is no minimum fine now while the maximum fine may double to $30,000, from $15,000 now.
All infringements of the Act are now deemed as criminal offences, but MOM plans to reclassify some less-serious offences as regulatory breaches.
These do not require prosecution in court, so action can be taken more quickly. The proposed maximum penalty is $20,000 per breach, said MOM, which added that other moves - such as barring employers from getting work passes - may suffice as deterrents.
The ministry also proposes to make some offences - which are now lumped under offences of a more general type - stand-alone infringements.
One such offence is making CPF contributions to 'phantom' local workers to artificially boost the number of home-grown staff, in order to be eligible to hire more foreigners. This will be a regulatory breach, subject to the standard $20,000 maximum penalty.
Another is receiving kickbacks or bribes from foreign workers to get employed. It will be a criminal offence subject to a fine of up to $30,000, a jail term of up to 24 months, or both.
Foreign workers will also face heavier penalties. That for working without a valid work pass may be raised to a fine of up to $20,000, up to 24 months in jail, or both. It is now a fine of up to $5,000, up to 12 months in jail, or both.
Migrant-worker welfare groups applauded the decision to crack down on kickbacks in particular.
'Kickbacks lead to a lot of exploitation,' said Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, vice-president of Transient Workers Count Too. Tougher kickback penalties were one of the suggestions that the group made to MOM last June.
Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), said the move was good but hoped more could be done. The changes are on the whole 'quite lopsided as the focus is on penalties, rather than the welfare of workers', he said.
Both groups intend to submit recommendations to MOM. Among other things, Home will call for specific definitions of terms such as 'adequate accommodation' for workers and improved medical coverage.
Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam, who had raised worries about errant employers during the Budget debate, said the review is timely.
'The proposed improvements to the Act should not be taken as being targeted against employers but to ensure that workers get a fair deal,' he said.
A public consultation document with the proposed changes will remain on the Reach website till May 31. Views can be sent to email@example.com