By Kumaran Pillai, Choo Zheng Xi & Leo Khaw –
Video editing by Terry Xu –
Editor’s Note: Article updated as of 12 p.m. 9 October 2012 to reflect a fuller translation of the contract signed by the PRC worker with the Singapore EA.
The contract attached in our article states that the worker has “paid a sum of RMB 15000 to the Singapore intermediate agency to arrange my entry to Singapore Panasonic“
A secretly filmed tape has exposed the local employment agent (EA) of Panasonic Singapore admitting that he collected up to S$3,000 from People’s Republic of China (PRC) workers.
The tape, which was secretly recorded by a dissatisfied PRC Panasonic staff member, is the latest development in a labour dispute involving what TOC understands to be about 100 Panasonic workers dissatisfied with poor wages and working conditions.
The exposé raises the question of whether Panasonic’s EA has breached the Employment Agencies Act as well as new questions about the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) willingness to prosecute offences under the Employment Agencies Act.
At face value, the tape appears to contradict a public statement by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a Facebook posting on the 28th of September 2008 in which it said:
We had investigated the employment agency (EA) and found that the claims of excessive recruitment fees were unsubstantiated. In fact, the workers admitted that the recruitment fees were never paid to the local EA – all the fees were paid by the workers directly to their employment agents back in China, which lie beyond the reach of our laws.
In the embedded video below, the local agent admits several times that he received RMB 15,000 (approx. S$3,000) per worker, which was transferred to him from his Chinese counterpart.
In other words, this suggests that the original fees were paid to the EA in China, who then remits the money to the Singapore EA.
At one point in the video, the PRC worker taking the video confirms: “So here in Singapore you receive a sum of 15,000 (RMB) from us”?
The agent confirms: “We take 15,000 (RMB)”.
Lack of will to investigate possible breach of the law?
Part of the Employment Agencies Act has been drafted with an eye to prevent unscrupulous EAs from exploiting foreign workers by charging excessive fees in exchange for their placement in a job.
By law, EAs are not supposed to be charging more than 1 month’s wages from foreign workers to place them in a job in Singapore.
Section 23 (1) of the Act reads:
“Where any employment agency personnel of a licensee, directly or indirectly, charges or receives for his services any sum greater than the prescribed fee, the licensee and the employment agency personnel shall each be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 and, in respect of a second or subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.”
According to the subsidiary legislation of the Act, the prescribed fee in force at present is one month for every year of the foreign worker’s employee work pass validity. The monthly wage of most of the Panasonic PRC workers is about S$500.
From the Act, it is clear that the Singapore Act envisions a situation where a Singapore based EA collaborates with a foreign based EA to charge exorbitant fees for placing a foreign worker in a job. This is apparent from the words “directly or indirectly”.
However, to date, MOM has not addressed the complaint of EAs overcharging despite the evidence provided.
A follow-up post by migrant worker’s rights group HOME suggests that a complaint filed by the Panasonic workers under the Employment Agencies Act was not given due consideration. In the post, HOME stated:
“The Panasonic workers allege that the Investigating Officer (IO) seeing to their complaint dismissed it on the basis of the EA’s explanation that the S$3,000 payment from the Chinese EA to the Singapore EA included a refundable portion to the EA upon completion of the worker’s probationary period.”
TOC understands that this explanation was accepted by the MOM investigation officer without documentary proof by the EA that the funds were actually remitted back to the Chinese EA.
In any case, the question arises as to why the Chinese EA would remit any part of the S$3,000 to the Singapore EA in the first place, only for the Singapore EA to then remit a portion of those funds back.
About 90 Panasonic workers have signed a petition to MOM and the Chinese Embassy demanding a full investigation and recovery of their monies.
Editors Note: The date and time of the video is out of sync as they didn’t adjust the date and time of the device prior to the recording.
Moreover, some of the workers had paid to the local employment agent and a signed copy of their agreement in Mandarin is as attached below.
Transcript of the Agreement as follows:
I , (name of worker), on the 10th May 2012 at the point of leaving China for Singapore, have paid a sum of RMB 15000 to the Singapore intermediate agency to arrange my entry to Singapore Panasonic and all relevant insurance. I understand all details concerning my work in Singapore, company policies, labour laws, company welfare policy, wages, declaration of agreement and all relevant documents. I will also abide by all the documents that I have signed, together with the legal regulations.
I, myself upon reaching Singapore, will have the Singapore agent to go through the explanations of what had been said to me when I left for Singapore from China.
In the event that I should make any complaints, all will be based on what I have signed in this declaration letter, together with the employment contract signed with the Singapore employment agency. Any issues outside of the content of the contract would not be entertained.
If I should quit my job and leave the country due to personal reasons, it would be deemed as a breach of contract. All responsibility and economic damages will be borne by me. The Singapore and China agent will need not return the agent fees. The Singapore agent will reimburse me RMB 10000 If I do not pass my medical check-up and have my entry application rejected.
I reiterate once again that I am very clear that I have signed this declaration letter without having being misled; deceived, threatened nor enticed to do so. I cannot go back on my agreement once I leave the borders of China and arrive at Singapore, if I do; all economic damages and responsibility will be borne solely on me. I hereby certify that the information disclosed herein is true and correct.