Channel NewsAsia carried an eye-witness report of an employer handing over to the police a worker who had gone missing and was later caught presumably by private security agents. The employer Mr Ng told the reporter that employers are liable for missing workers, and they may face legal repercussions, if workers get into any accident, suggesting that this is the chief motivation for going all out to locate missing workers.

In truth, the likely chief motivation is that employers stand to lose their bond of $5,000 they had placed for each foreign worker if they go missing.

The last sentence in the news story also oversimplifies the situation. When a Work Permit is cancelled, and a worker has a grievance against his employer, he can lodge a complaint at the Ministry of Manpower which issues him a Special Pass, permitting him to continue staying in Singapore until his problem has been resolved.

Full text of CNA story:

Channel News Asia, November 19, 2011:

Average of five foreign workers go missing each week in S’pore

SINGAPORE: Over the last three years, about five foreign workers go missing each week on average.

On Saturday morning, Channel NewsAsia was at the scene when an employer who found his missing worker, handed him over to the police.

Once they saw the missing foreign worker, employer James Ng’s staff held on to him while security personnel called the police. Mr Ng then took a photo as evidence.

Shortly after, six officers arrived in three police cars to conduct investigations.

Mr Ng said his 42-year-old worker is from Anhui, China, and had run away from his dormitory in Geylang in April. Mr Ng alleged that his worker had gone to work illegally for another construction company.

The worker was interrogated for three hours at Jurong industrial estate before he was brought to the police station. He is expected to be deported within a week.

Mr Ng said employers are liable for missing workers, and they may face legal repercussions, if workers get into any accident. He added that he is still trying to find three other missing workers, all from China, and is offering a reward of S$2,000 for each of them.

Mr Ng said: “The workers say they’ve lost a lot of money, so they can’t go back to work. And when another company offers them a higher pay, they go there to work instead.”

It is illegal for employers to recruit missing workers, and those who do so may get caned or jailed.

In a reply to Channel NewsAsia, the Manpower Ministry said the number of foreign workers who go missing is not large. It said that between 2008 and 2010, fewer than three out of every 1,000 workers in Singapore go missing. This amounts to about 250 cases annually.

The ministry said a worker is considered missing if he is not repatriated once his work permit is cancelled, and most of these workers were eventually found and repatriated.