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Three directors and their companies convicted for foreign workers housing offences linked to Geylang fire incident

The Singapore Court has imposed a fine amounting to a total of $153,000 on the directors of three companies for housing foreign workers in overcrowded private residential premises, which did not comply with the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) guidelines.

In a press statement on Wednesday (27 June), Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that the directors and their respective companies are Ong Lai Kar, Director of Essential Clean and Care Pte. Ltd., Ong Huay Chew, Director of Seng Foo Building Construction Pte. Ltd., and Koh Kok Seng, Director of Bestway Cleaning Services Pte. Ltd., who were convicted under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA).

MOM said that it has also barred all convicted parties from employing foreign workers.

Essential Clean & Care Pte Ltd was fined $63,000 for failing to to provide acceptable accommodation, failing to update (OFWAS), and abetting Seng Foo Building Construction and Pte Ltd and Bestway Cleaning Services Pte in failure to provide acceptable accommodation.

Seng Foo Building Construction Pte Ltd was fined $72,000 for failing to provide acceptable accommodation and failing to update OFWAS.

While, Bestway Cleaning Services Pte Ltd was fined $18,000 for failing to provide acceptable accommodation and failing to update OFWAS.

OFWAS is an online system that enables employers to update the addresses of their foreign workers with the MOM. All employers of Work Permit (WP) holders are required to provide the residential addresses of their WP holders to MOM prior to issuance or renewal of their WP and subsequently any change in their address within five days.

According to MOM, the three employers had housed their foreign workers at a shop house in Lorong 4 Geylang since August 2014.

A fire broke out in the early morning of 6 December 2014, resulting in the death of four workers, with several others injured. While the cause of the fire was electrical in origin, MOM’s investigations revealed that there were 22 foreign workers residing in the shop house, which exceeded URA’s then prevailing occupancy cap of eight persons.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, employers are required to provide accommodation that comply with the various statutory requirements for their foreign workers. The ministry then took prosecution action against the employers for housing the workers in overcrowded accommodation.

MOM noted that it has also prosecuted Ong Lai Kar, for abetting the other two employers to house their foreign workers in the overcrowded shop house and had earlier prosecuted six other individuals and five other companies in relation to this case for similarly housing their workers in accommodation that did not meet statutory requirements. All parties were fined a total of $102,000.

The ministry stated that relevant authorities have also taken prosecution action under the Planning Act and Fire Safety Act against the master tenant, property owner and other involved parties of the affected unit. Their cases are currently ongoing in Court.

If convicted, the master tenant, property owner and other involved parties face a maximum fine of $200,000 under the Planning Act, and a fine of up to $200,000 or to imprisonment of up to two years or to both under the Fire Safety Act.

Commenting on the case, Ms Jeanette Har, Director of Well-Being at MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division, said, “Lives have been lost. Employers are legally obliged to exercise a duty of care towards their workers, and this duty cannot be simply delegated to others. Employers who fail to ensure that their workers are housed in safe and proper accommodation that meets statutory requirements will be firmly taken to task.”

Since 2015, MOM, the SCDF and URA have conducted regular joint inspections and increased our enforcement presence on private residences housing foreign workers. Specifically, MOM conducted more than 3,000 housing inspections in the last two years, and imposed penalties on employers who have housed workers in accommodation that were in poor condition.

Employers who contravene any of the work pass conditions under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, will be guilty of an offence under Section 22(1)(a) of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA). Offenders can be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned up to 12 months for each offence.

MOM stressed that employers must ensure that the accommodation provided for their foreign workers is not overcrowded and in accordance with the applicable guidelines and statutory requirements. Employers should also remind foreign workers who source for their own accommodation, to inform employers promptly on any changes to their residential addresses, and to report any overcrowding or fire hazards to the authorities.

MOM urges foreign workers who have issues with their accommodation to first raise the matter to their employer. If their employers fail to make improvements to the living conditions, they should immediately seek advice and assistance from the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) at 6536 2692 or report the matter to MOM at 6438 5122.

It then added that members of the public who come across foreign workers living in overcrowded and poorly maintained accommodation can similarly report the matter to MWC or MOM.