Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Authorities turn a blind eye on fake safety certificates sold in Singapore

By Tiffany Gwee/ Terry Xu

It is common sense that safety certification is of utmost importance in workplaces where workers are often vulnerable to high risks especially when working in construction sites and there is definitely a need to be completely trained as to how to stay safe in such sites.

It is no surprise then that Mr Tan, director of an Accredited Training Provider (ATP) by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in the north who specialises in Working-At-Height (WAH) safety training , was extremely concerned about the circulation and selling of forged safety certificates in the market.

Training Centre reports fake safety certificates to authorities

Tan had lodged a total of 10 police reports since April last year, the very first report made end April after an ex-student of his came to collect his genuine certificate after successful completion of the course. The student brought 2 other certificates along to ask Tan if those were genuine or forged. It turned out that the names printed on the other certificates did not show up in his system and none of them attended any courses in his training centre before.

Tan discovered that both the false certificates had different formats when comparing it to the genuine ones.  In addition, the centre did not schedule and conduct any of the course based on the dates indicated on the certificates Additionally, the particulars reflected (on the fake certificates) are the workers’ work permit numbers when it should have been their FIN/NRIC number instead. All certificates issued by the centre are hand signed and not a scanned copy of the signatures.  With this, Tan immediately lodged a police report in hopes that they would be able to help with the issue.

One of many Police reports made by Tan

In July last year, one foreign worker approached his centre and requested for receipts for his course fees in order to make financial claims from his company. After noticing that he was not a student registered under the company, Tan asked to see his Work-At-Height course card for more information. The unique pass number on the card turned out to be under a completely different person (who was working in a different company) altogether, which lead Tan to believe that there were people forging his company’s cards and illegally selling them around to workers.

In his report to the Police, he gave a name and the number of someone who he suspected was part of the forgery. However, there was no action taken by the Police.

Things escalated near the end of July when Tan received an email from an engineering firm requesting an invoice of a safety training course attended by one of the foreign workers in their company.

The person in the email had said that they possessed official receipts proving that they had completed courses in the centre – all submitted to them by the foreign worker himself. As expected, the documents were all forged as the company stamp did not indicate the company’s address as it should have, there were no courses conducted on the date stated on the receipt and also the signature of the document did not belong to any staff of the company.

Tan expressed concern that he had found out at least 10 workers were in possession of the false certificates that have his company’s logo and certificate template on it; many of the workers even used the fake receipts to make claims.

The most absurd case that Tan was faced with, was in January this year, where another company emailed them to verify an invoice submitted by their workers to ask for reimbursement after they enrolled themselves for the safety course.  It turned out that the safety course was not even conducted at the centre as it was never accredited by MOM


Police’s unsatisfactory handling of the case

Even with 10 police reports, Tan had received very little updates on the investigation into the case.

In December last year, Tan had provided the FIN number of the suspect who possibly was selling forged training certificates to the investigation officer handling the case, hoping that they would be able to stop this problem before it becomes more apparent in the future.

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) emailed Tan after (in January this year) to state that this suspect had already left Singapore several months before the case had been reported and was no longer in Singapore and that there were “no further leads to trace him”.

On 31st December 2015, Tan had personally dropped down to a company to look for a worker who was in possession of the fake certificate.  He was hoping the worker can reveal or bring him to the one who sold him the fake certificate.

SPF was called down to the company after Tan was not allowed to contact the worker personally. The worker then returned from site and was interviewed by the police officers.

The worker revealed that the certificate was bought from another worker who was working with him at the same site.  Tan wanted to bring the worker to the site and identify the seller but was stopped by the police officer who told Tan that he might jeopardise the investigation and assured him the Investigation Officer (IO) will investigate.

However, on 4th January 2016, Tan received a letter from SPF stating that after consulting the Attorney-General’s Chambers, a “stern warning in lieu of prosecution” was given to the person found in possession of the false training certificate.

Tan followed up with the IO to check if she managed to find the seller but was informed by her that there was no such person at the site, even though the worker clearly indicated the source of the fake certificate.

Tan said that he was utterly dissatisfied with the police’s handling of the case as he felt that the two investigating officers that were in charge of his case were supposed to directly discover the people involved in falsely and illegally replicating his company’s certificates and stamps and not just the workers who possessed the forged certificate.

It is in his opinion that a verbal warning itself is simply not enough and insufficient when trying to solve the problem of the circulation and making of forged certificates.

It was only after numerous correspondences with SPF on whether a warning is a strong deterrent to stop workers from buying fake certificates, did it replied that those who in possession of fake certificates will be repatriated.

The Police wrote,

Following your email dated 18 March 2016, I have reviewed the sequence of investigation by IO Nxxxxx and concluded that while she had followed-up on the information that you provided, there were insufficient leads to identify the subject. We have since exhausted all possible leads into the case.

I would like to clarify that while foreign workers caught with fake certificates were  issued with a warning, they were also repatriated.

The Police will be working with Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC) on issuing crime prevention advisories, and outreaching to companies and foreign workers. Our intention is to educate workers and companies on the importance of training and highlighting the consequence on possessing or using forged certificates. I would like to take this opportunity to urge you to partner us in this initiative.

In the meanwhile, if you encounter fresh cases of forged certificate, you are advised to lodge a Police report so that we can initiate investigative actions.

But whether or not such offenders are being caught and repatriated or not, no one knows for sure.

The trading of fake certificates at Little India

In January this year, Tan noticed some foreign workers around Mustafa Centre that had many certificates with them as if they were waiting for workers to collect the certificates from them. Tan made sure to take a photo of the suspicious workers and their envelopes and urged the investigation officers in-charge to personally head down to conduct an investigation.

Tan was sure that they could have actually had sufficient information to catch hold of the man illegally selling and printing certificates.

Suspect in the fake certificates trading arrested due to Tan’s report

However, little effort was put in by the police to locate and apprehend the people directly involved in the forgery of certificates despite having all the evidence and leads available after a successful arrest.

Contact information that was found with the suspect who was arrested with the fake certificates
Contact information that was found with the suspect who was arrested with the fake certificates

TOC corroborated Tan’s account with another source that there is a syndicate operating by foreigners that produces the fake certificates to be sold to migrant workers. The hidden video below that shows a runner taking over fake certificates that are ready to be delivered to their buyers, was given to us via the source.

The photo below, shows a gang that is dealing in the certificates.

Trading behind Serangoon Plaza



The severity of having fake certificates in the market

Tan made clear his disappointment in the police’s unsatisfactory response to the reports made by reiterating the severity of having fake certificates and how not being properly trained in safety is a danger to both the worker and those working around him as well. This is especially so when dealing with work that involves height, as falling from height accidents resulting in fatalities remains the highest workplace safety accident every year.

This is especially so when dealing with work that involves height, as falling from height accidents resulting in fatalities remains the highest workplace safety accident every year.

There already have been 52 workplace deaths till August this year alone. Even if there is no proof that any of them possessed false safety certificates, if workers are not trained and prepared to work in risky places such as construction sites, there will always be that perpetual probability of such accidents happening.

Tan highlighted another 2 areas of concerns.

For every company that emailed to verify with the centre on the authentic of the certificates and invoices, how many more did not verify and unknowingly submitted the invoices to claim under Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme (PIC). The government could very well be subsidising fake certificates under the scheme without knowing.

Another area of concern is that MOM announced a new upgrading pathway under the Multi-Skilling Scheme in July this year , to recognize experienced construction workers who specialize in WSH-related works, as higher skilled(R1) workers.  Higher skilled (R1) workers can enjoy a longer allowable period of employment of up to 22 years and lower foreign worker levies.  From 1st October, one of the criteria for basic skill (R2) to upgrade to R1 is to attend 120 hours of training in approved WSH-related courses.

Currently, except restricted WSH courses, such as CSOC or BCSS etc, there is no system from MOM where they are able to monitor the issuing of other WSH certificates.  There will be cases where workers submitting fake certificates which they bought without taking any lesson to their respective companies and wanting to upgrade to R1 workers.  The selling of fake certificates is still on going as Tan has received a few more fake certificates where the course dates indicated as recent as in July 2016.  He is hesitated to make any more police reports, as all the previous reports investigations have been futile.

Sale of fake certificates going on for years with no signs of action

The problem regarding fake certificates is nothing new – back in 2013, 25 foreigners were charged in court after a crackdown by MOM for the possession of fake education qualification certificates. MOM had afterwards firmly reiterated its stance against foreigners who submit forged qualifications to gain work passes.

This issue at hand concerning forged safety certificates is a severe problem that needs to be urgently addressed as it concerns the lives of foreign workers (and those around them) working at these high-risk sites.

At the same time, this also affect training centres such as the one run by Tan, that provide legitimate training courses accredited by MOM. Apart from losing credibility due to the influx of certificates forged under their names, centres also lose out on trainees to unscrupulous companies that sell certificates to workers.

As Tan puts it, legitimate small-scale training centres operators will eventually have to close down soon in light of competition from big scale centres like NTUC and due to the inaction of authorities, police and MOM on the mentioned rampant violation of law.

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