Dismissing an appeal against a jail sentence imposed by a District Court, Judge of Appeal Justice V K Rajah said that employers who fail to pay their foreign workers on time or house them in acceptable quarters can expect to spend time in jail.
Lee Chiang Theng now has to serve his four-week jail sentence for non-payment of salaries.
The court’s decision was reported in the Straits Times, Saturday, November 26, 2011.
Lee, the sole director of Goldrich Venture and Gates Offshore, housed the employees in an overpopulated, unapproved unit which contained 1,182 foreign workers from 19 companies, said the newspaper. It is unclear whether he was responsible for all 1,189 men or only some of them, since only two company names were highlighted.
For the charges relating to housing the men in “unapproved and overcrowded accommodation with unsatisfactory sanitary facilities,” Lee had been fined. One worker died of chicken pox from lack of medical attention.
Justice Rajah “took issue with the $4,000 fine imposed on Lee for each of the two accommodation offences. He said that if prosecutors had appealed before him, he would have increased the penalty to jail. This would ‘be commensurate with the severity of the harm caused and the level of general deterrence’,” reported the newspaper.
Underlining his view that the District Court’s sentences were too lenient, the judge said that they “should not be viewed as the benchmark for similar offending conduct.”
The Straits Times highlighted two quotes from the judge, probably to remind other employers of the seriousness of their responsibilities:
‘Some employers view the recruitment of unskilled workers as a purely commercial enterprise bereft of any serious responsibilities for these workers’ well-being.This is altogether wrong. Foreign workers are unquestionably not chattel like the slaves of less enlightened times. Like any other employees, they have basic rights that must be strictly respected.’
‘It must be re-emphasised that employers are in a position of considerable authority over their foreign workers. But this authority over the workers for the duration of their stay in Singapore carries with it serious responsibilities that have to be scrupulously observed. A serious failure to discharge these responsibilities, i.e., in relation to the payment of salaries; the statutory levies due; or the provision of suitable accommodation will ordinarily attract a custodial sentence.’