The Straits Times reported on 4 October 2012 that an employment agency has been fined $5,000 for overcharging two foreign workers. The news report did not name the agency. The workers involved were a man and a woman — countries of origin not stated — who worked in the manufacturing sector.

The agency was also given six demerit points by the Ministry of Manpower.

This is the first time that a firm has been punished for overcharging workers under the amended Employment Agencies Act, which took effect in April last year.

Under the tightened regulations, agencies cannot charge foreign workers fees that exceed one month of their salary, for each year of the duration of the work pass.

The total amount charged must not exceed two months of the worker’s salary.

— Straits Times, 4 Oct 2012, Employment agency fined $5k, by Amelia Tan

One worker was overcharged by $1,600 while the other was overcharged by $600.

The newspaper also reported that the ministry has sent a letter to other employment agencies highlighting this case and warning them that “overcharging is a serious offence”. A ministry spokesman also said that there are other cases under investigation.

The ministry urged workers to ask their agencies for a written receipt for fees, but the reality of the process is that workers pay up while still in their home countries, and would hardly be in a position to hear what the Singapore government is urging. Also, as reported in the Straits Times,

Transient Workers Count Too executive committee member John Gee said agencies in Singapore and the employees’ countries of origin often charge workers a lump-sum fee for the service they and their overseas recruitment partners provide.

Singapore agents insist they take home the portion of the fees which is allowed under Singapore law but do not provide detailed receipts to back up their claims.

“Some agencies may doctor the figures and earn more than what is allowed. To prevent this, employment agencies should give a clear breakdown of the items they are charging the workers,” said Mr Gee.

— ibid.

The Straits Times noted that there are about 3,000 employment agencies here which secure jobs for both foreign and Singaporean workers.