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In the second half of 2017, Sikdar Rony lodged two complaints with the Ministry of Manpower. One was over unpaid salary and the other was about having been made to pay a kickback in order to get a job transfer.
His unpaid salary case eventually went against him. His evidence was rather incomplete and he lost at the Employment Claims Tribunal.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) however took the matter of kickback more seriously. Rony said he had been made to pay $1,500 to his boss, and his evidence for this was good. TWC2 believes that prosecution against the employer is likely to be launched.
Where the Singapore government falls dreadfully short is with respect to responsibility for victim protection. After his salary case collapsed in December 2017, Rony was ordered to continue staying in Singapore in order to assist with the kickback investigation. He would stay a further seven months.
Throughout this entire period, he could not get a job (which we will detail below), had no income to remit to his family, and his wife eventually left him. His marriage collapsed as a direct consequence of the Singapore government’s failure to do right by him.
MOM mentioned in one of many emails that they had offered food and housing to Rony. This completely misses the point. Breadwinners do not come to Singapore merely looking for food and housing. They need to have paying jobs in order to send money home to support their families. This is especially if workers are required to stay on in Singapore by the government itself — there is nothing voluntary about that.
In January, TWC2 asked MOM to put Rony on the Temporary Job Scheme (TJS). MOM agreed; this is pretty routine for anyone asked by MOM to stay on in Singapore to assist with investigations. In Rony’s case, however, despite having found a willing employer under TJS, the Work Permit application was first delayed, then rejected. Phone calls between TWC2 and MOM did not get us much clarity as to why, except that there was nothing wrong with the prospective TJS employer.
In March 2018, Rony found another willing TJS employer, but once again the Work Permit application was rejected. Once again, MOM would not provide any clear reason why. The email we received from MOM merely said that
We would like to clarify that Sikdar’s application was rejected as he was unable to meet one of the conditions that would deem him eligible for employment…. We are also unable to divulge the specific condition which Sikdar failed to meet, due to confidentiality reasons.
We asked Rony if he knew of any reason why he would be blocked. He couldn’t think of any. We asked him point-blank whether he’s ever had any run-ins with the police before. He said no.
On or around 18 June 2018, MOM called Rony in and told him the kickback investigation was over and he was not needed in Singapore any further. He should get ready to be repatriated.
TWC2 appealed on his behalf for a chance at “Change of Employer (COE)”, i.e. a transfer to another company without first having to go home. MOM agreed, gave him a COE letter, but also told him his chances of having a Work Permit approved were very poor. On hearing this from Rony, we wrote to MOM:
I had a more detailed talk with Rony this morning following his session at MOM yesterday.
Rony recounted how he was forced to agree that he would return home if he were unsuccessful at obtaining a job after being given 14 days to attempt for COE.
The MOM officer attending to Rony told him there was a 90 percent chance his WP application would be rejected.
I find that to be truly inexplicable and clearly an exercise in futility designed to show only on surface that Rony is being helped and given due process.
Can MOM please explain?
Despite the short time given, Rony managed to find a new employer, who then put in a Work Permit application. For the third time, it was rejected. When TWC2 asked why, MOM said vaguely that it was because of “not meeting certain criteria”. We asked what criteria, and what could Rony do about it? The holding reply was the MOM would check and get back to us — which they never quite did.
In the same conversation, MOM also denied that any officer had told Rony he had a 90% chance of rejection. We then countered that someone must have said that; where else would he have gotten such a figure?
This entire saga strongly suggests that a secret blacklist is maintained; maybe not at MOM itself, but within some part of the government. But if so, the issue then is this
We made one last effort at clarifying the situation for Rony, as to whether he could ever come back to Singapore to work. MOM’s reply was that their “advice remains that Mr Rony will face challenges in getting his work permit approved due to the screening process.” Still no details what the problem was. Particularly interesting was how that email reply from MOM ended. Haughtily, they said they would “not be responding any further” to enquiries about Rony.
Moreover, despite finding it credible that a kickback had been demanded out of him, MOM did not assist Rony with getting his $1,500 back.
Rony went home in July 2018, virtually empty-handed and to an empty matrimonial home.
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