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Mother who refused to pay domestic worker wages, says fine by MOM excessive

A Singaporean woman was fined $34,500 in the month of April by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for not paying her domestic worker for more than a year and getting her to work at an unauthorised location.

Tang Lee Sung, 39 was reported by local media that she did not pay Indonesian Astrilia Agustin, 27, her salary for the period of November 2011 to May 2013.

The maid was to be paid $420 a month. MOM calculated that Tang owed $5,778 after deducting agent fees.

MOM also said that Ms Astrilia was made to go to Johor Baru to take care of cats belonging to Tang's mother almost every day, even though she was supposed to work only in Tang's home in Jalan Rengas, in Seletar Hills.

District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam found Tang guilty of all 19 charges of defaulting on salary payments, and one charge of illegal deployment. Tang was given a $32,000 fine for defaulting on the salary payments, the highest so far and fined $2,500 for illegal deployment.

However, things are quite different from what the media and MOM put it.

Tang's mother has been employing domestic workers under Tang's name for the past ten over years as Tang is no longer employed due to her health condition. She had employed six domestic workers till date with five former domestic workers had no issues in the past.

Apart from employing a domestic worker due to her poor health, Tang's mother says she needs the domestic worker to take care of the cats she picks up.

In fact, it is specifically mentioned in the job description.

take care of cats

In a lengthy letter addressed to the court, Tang's mother recalls her traumatic days as a seamstress who was forced to marry an abusive husband who does not contribute to the household and shared how her decades of suffering led her to develop a compulsion to care for cats.

According to Tang's mother, Tang has no idea of the arrangement between her and the domestic workers apart from allowing her to use Tang's name to employ the domestic workers.

During the two-day trial in April this year, Tang said Ms Astrilia had agreed that her mother would keep her salary for her and pay her later.

MOM alleges that Tang and her mother refused to pay Ms Astrilia at the end of her employment contract as she claimed that she had not performed her tasks well.

money transfer

Tang's mother had a different story. For the past ten over years, she had been paying the salary of the domestic workers without fail through wire transfer to their family (see above).

However, for this particular domestic worker, she had requested to have the money paid in Singapore instead of wiring back home. Due to the domestic worker bond, she and the maid agency were apprehensive about paying the sum to her in Singapore, in fear of the domestic worker running away.  But eventually, a joint bank account was created for the domestic worker for the salary to be deposited in.

According to Tang's mother, it is not that she did not want to pay the domestic worker the salary but had offered MOM to pay the balance sum of the salary after deduction. MOM refused to accept the arrangement and she too refused to budge as she alleged that Ms Astrilia had damaged their properties and mistreated their cats.

letter by domestic worker

In three letters which are supposedly written by Ms Astrilla over the span of over one year, she confessed that she damaged furniture in the home, killed the cats which were reared by Tang's mother and causing traffic fines to be incurred as Tang's mother drives an off-peak car.

However, migrant worker activists have noted in the past that such letters cannot be taken as proof as it could have been written under duress.

Tang's mother also refused to return the passport back to the domestic worker because she wants to seek justice for the cats "killed" by the domestic worker, either through abuse or negligence.

cat with skin infection
One of the cats that suffered skin infection due to poor hygiene

Speaking in Mandarin, "I want to seek justice for all the cats that she had killed under her care." Tang says that the domestic worker had purposely come to Singapore to look for men and had no intention to work properly.

When this reporter asked about her cupability in the death of the cats, she silently acknowledged that she also had a part to play for the continued employment of the domestic worker. But turned around to insist that she was declined by the maid agency despite asking multiple times to change the worker.

Tang's mother also shared how her daughter was harassed by MOM officers at her workplace, causing much distress to her because of her refusing to return the passport.

Today, Tang's mother has fallen out with her two sons and daughter, Tang over the incident because of her persistence on the matter and dragging the whole matter out.

Tang's mother feels that the fines should not be so high for her daughter, as she had been depositing the wages in the joint bank account with the domestic worker and she had tried to pay the domestic worker the wages that the latter had agreed to.

She claims that it was due to the "fixing" by the MOM officer that the wages for the domestic worker was owed for such a long period

Tang's mother had filed claims against MOM and the maid agency for damages but had all the claims dismissed by the High Court. She intends to file appeals for the cases that have been thrown out, without any regards to the fees she will have to pay.

Below is the submission by Ms Tang's mother to the court on the various issues that she highlighted.

Tang's mother's name is not mentioned because she fears that her sons will be displeased with her by further pursuing the matter.

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