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Mustafa Centre investigated for alleged violation of Employment of Foreign Manpower Act

The Online Citizen understands that complaints have been made against the renowned Mustafa Centre to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for collecting "cash back" from its workers and terminating their contract without valid reasons.

The company is being investigated for allegedly violating the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act 1990.

Several former foreign workers have come out with their testimonies regarding the salary issue, after non-renewal of their employment contracts and termination of service due to them having to file complaints with MOM.

Mr Abdul Haq Siddique, a former Senior Sales Executive at the jewellery department at Mustafa Centre, said that he had observed the "cash back" practice taking place from the moment he received "the very first salary". He expressed shock and disbelief over Mr Ghouse, the Human Resources (HR) Manager's instruction to return part of their salaries as a form of "cash back" without good reason.

This led him to making a query to Mr Mustaq Ahmad, a shareholder and director of Mohamed Mustafa & Samsuddin Company Pte Ltd (MMSCPL) that owns Mustafa Centre. Mr Mustaq allegedly responded by saying "What he [Mr Ghouse] asks [you to do], you follow".

"Every month, when I got my salary (as declared in MOM application) in my bank account, Mr Ghouse and sometimes Ms Nafisah [the HR Assistant] asked me to bring the cash back amount to him."

"I used to bring the cash back amount by withdrawing [money] using my OCBC ATM card and giving to Mr Ghouse, or to Ms Nafisah in the absence of Mr Ghouse."

"The cash back amount was S$600 to S$1000 every month, depending if I worked on my off day," said Mr Abdul.

Mr Abdul said that he was not the only one who had to pay the "cash back".

He added: "I had been paying the cash back until October 2017 when the HR department stopped taking cash back due to the Mustafa families' legal dispute." It was alleged that only the salaries of the family members of Mr Mustafa and that of Mr Samsuddin working for the company were exempt from the "cash back" practice.

Videos taken in secrecy by the former employees were shared with TOC, showing how the HR department collected the "cash back" from the employees and documented the amount "owed" by the workers to the company.

In a civil suit against Mr Mustaq and his family, Mustafa's second family, led by Mr Ayaz Ahmed, who is one of Mr Mustaq's three half-brothers, made the allegation of Mr Mustaq's involvement in the false declaration of Mustafa Centre's foreign workers' salaries as a part of their pleadings:

Over the years, the 1st Defendant [Mr Mustaq] caused MMSCPL to overstate the salaries of its employees in its applications for their work passes. They plead that the difference between the “declared salaries” and the actual salaries of the workers was collected from the workers each month and passed to the 1st Defendant, who kept them for his own benefit.

The civil suit claims that Mr Mustaq had "diluted the interests" of his step-family as the "beneficiaries of the Mustafa estate" through "two share allotments" that have increased Mr Mustaq's stake in the company.

All of the former workers TOC spoke to suggested that the alleged cash back practice, as highlighted by Mr Ayaz in the civil suit, was the reason why the practice of "cash back" collection was ceased.

However, the joy of not having to pass the excess cash back to the company was short-lived, as S-Pass employees were informed via a piece of orange-colored A4 sized notice letter pasted in the office, that there will be no more renewals of S-Passes for workers holding the pass.

Mr Abdul Siddique said, "On 28 May this year, the S-Pass holders working for the Mustafa company were told that their passes will not be renewed, as their manpower costs for S-Pass holders have increased due to the cessation of cash back collections."

He added: "After that, I wrote an email to the top management, as well as to Mr Mustaq, regarding the non-renewal of [our] S-Passes."

"To date, they did not reply to the email I sent," he said.

Another former employee of Mustafa, Mr Gopal also confirmed Mr Abdul Siddique's experience in seeking clarification regarding the non-renewal notice regarding their S-Passes:

We went to our General Manager and asked him [for] his advice, and we came to the point of sending our request through email to the top management, which includes all the board of directors and bosses, informing them about how we got trapped for the cash back scam and about the ongoing problems related to the non-renewal of S-pass holder.

I sent my email on 30 May 2018, expecting a reply from them or assurance from them about renewal of S pass. Instead, we (a colleague and I) got terminated without any reason.

When asked if he has heard anything from F&B staff regarding the renewal of the S-Passes of workers who support the company in giving false testimonies to MOM, Mr Abdul Siddique said: "They are giving lollipops . . . [It is as though they are telling the workers that] If you do not speak the truth, I will give you [S-Pass] renewals.”

He hopes to achieve "justice" from his predicament, and appeals to his "friends [who are currently still] working in Mustafa” to "please come and speak the truth”.

 “Don't be afraid of these people . . . They have been suppressing us for so many years,” he said as a message to his former colleagues.

He also urged "the people of Singapore to stand for justice too", adding that he believes that MOM will conduct a fair inquiry on the matter.

"This [the cash back practice] is a matter of fraud ... by a large company in Singapore ... [There is also the] violation of income tax department [by the alleged tax evasion] ... Illegally collecting money, laundering money ... No one knows where the money goes to," he lamented.

According to Mr Abdul, there are about 100 S-pass employees at Mustafa Centre who are facing the same situation.

When asked who will replace the employees if their S-Passes are not renewed, the former employees shared that there are plans to hire Malaysians to replace those whose employment has been terminated.

As the S-Pass status of Mr Abdul Siddique and other former employees have either expired or been terminated, they are currently issued with Special Passes issued by MOM to assist in the investigation. While they are allowed to seek alternative employment during the investigation, which would take months if not years, MOM noted to them that they can only take jobs in the construction industry as they are Indian nationals.

When queried by TOC on the claims made by former employees of Mustafa Centre, MOM replied: "MOM has received complaints that Mohammed Mustafa & Samsuddin Co. Pte Ltd may have infringed the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Investigations are on-going."

TOC understands from those involved that MOM has not gone down to Mustafa to look for any documentation evidence.

According to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers who are found guilty of making a false statement or providing false information in any application or renewal of a work pass will face a fine of up to $20,000, or imprisonment for up to 2 years, or both.