Kickback intermediaries return “agent money” in a hurry

Posted by on May 29, 2015 in Articles, Stories

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Early indications were encouraging. Maybe it’s a sign that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is at last taking kickback complaints seriously. But at the time of the interview, it’s too early to say how this case will turn out.

What is clear though is that Anwar Hossain Abdur Rab is happy. And very fortunate compared to many others who’ve come to TWC2 before him, telling us that they’re certain their bosses or supervisors took a cut of the “agent fee” they paid to secure their jobs. For a typical worker from India or Bangladesh, the agent fee ranges from $3,000 to $8,000. The work permit that comes with that job is often for no more than one year, and renewal is not guaranteed. TWC2’s research has found that the typical worker needs to work about 17 months to earn back what he paid.

Anwar was in shock when he was told he was being terminated. “How like this?” he says while recounting his story. He had been on the job for all of two days.

To get this job, the key intermediary was a certain Polash, a Bangladeshi working in Singapore. Polash demanded $3,750. Anwar, who was then in Bangladesh, arranged for this amount to be passed to him via two “cousins” Sekentor and Md Samrat — also here in Singapore. They’re not really cousins in a biological sense, but more like close friends and neighbours growing up together. Such bonds are strong in Bangladesh and they are persons whom Anwar can trust with money.

The deal done,  V-One Interior Design applied for a Work Permit and in time, a letter from MOM (“In-Principle Approval for a Work Permit”) was sent to Anwar. He then travelled to Singapore, arriving on Tuesday, 12 May 2015.

He called Samrat from Changi airport. “Make your way to Kallang MRT,” Anwar was told. Having worked in Singapore before, Anwar knew how to do that. He did as told and at Kallang train station was met by someone who passed him a pair of safety shoes and an address located along Lorong 26 Geylang, about one station away. He then went to that address where, “I see one man Alamin and one Chinese man. I sleeping there, they say.”

He started work the following day. “In Bukit Batok. I do ceiling and partition, plastering and touch-up. Together [with a] Malaysia man.”

The third day — that would be Thursday, 14 May — he was at work again, but fell, though it wasn’t serious. Nonetheless, he mumbled something about needing a bit of medical attention, and apparently that casual remark got back to the boss.

“Then boss angry and say [I must] go back to Bangladesh.” Just like that, he had lost his job.

Still staggering from shock, he contacted Sekentor, Samrat and Polash, and asked for his money back. Polash said it couldn’t be done; he had passed the money to the employer. As for getting another job now, Anwar would need to pay again, Polash told him.

Anwar promptly came to Transient Workers Count Too.

Our social worker Louis Ong wrote to MOM. Recognising that under Singapore law, an employer can fire an employee at any time without need to give a reason, it wasn’t to contest the dismissal, but to ask for “change of employer”. This, if granted, would be MOM’s consent for Anwar to seek another job without first being repatriated. Absent MOM’s green light, Anwar would have to go home and pay agents all over again for a new job.

Providing some background within the email, Louis mentioned to MOM what Anwar told him: That he had paid $3,750 to get this job, and that Polash had indicated that the employer had benefitted from it.

A week later, Anwar is at TWC2′ soup kitchen getting a free hot meal. “Yesterday, Polash give me back $2,350,” he tells us, his distress much subsided now. “Sekentor say he will give me back $950 on 10 June.”

The total does not match the $3,750 he had initially paid. It is still $450 short.

“For airticket,” explains Anwar, accepting that this amount can’t possibly be refunded by the travel agency or airline.

“No, that is not correct,” your writer says to him. People are still trying to fool him. Perhaps, the incoming flight might have been already paid, but that is only worth $247.90 (based on an online check made on 23 May 2015 for a Tuesday Tiger Airways flight in June). The employer is clearly responsible for the return flight under the law, and there is no reason why the value of that (about $200) should be Anwar’s to bear. “At least, ask for $200 more.”

This $450 aside, why the quick refunds? MOM has asked Sekentor and Polash to show up for interviews, says Anwar. Louis in his email had provided the ministry with cellphone numbers for Sekentor, Polash and Samrat, and MOM must have contacted them. “Sekentor must go MOM on 25 May, and Polash on 26 May,” Anwar says. “Not MOM tell me, but Sekentor and Polash tell me.”

Anwar does not know if the boss has also been called up.

What these guys will say to MOM is not yet known. How this case will evolve is not clear either. But the quick action by the ministry seems to have alarmed the parties enough to return Anwar his money. Most of it, at least.

TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our
means.

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