In response to Straits Times’ editorial following remarks by Justice V K Rajah dismissing the appeal of Lee Chiang Theng who had mistreated over 600 migrant workers, TWC2 president Russell Heng sent this letter to the newspaper editors on November 30, 2011:
Dear Straits Times,
I welcome your editorial remarks on abusive employers of migrant workers and join you in applauding Justice V. K. Rajah’s strong statements on the subject (‘Hit these labour abusers hard’, Straits Times, 29/11/11).
Too often, TWC2 has seen employers getting away with violations of work permit conditions and Singapore laws. When punitive measures are taken, they are often inadequate to act as a deterrent to ‘serial abusers’.
TWC2 played a role in drawing attention to the case that was brought on appeal to Justice V. K. Rajah and we note that 618 workers were mistreated over a period that, for some, extended up to eight months. Most of those workers paid out placement costs of $4,000-$7,000, and return home worse off than if they had never set their hopes on making decent earnings in Singapore for their families. They endured housing conditions that were injurious to their health.
In these circumstances, the fines imposed and a four week prison sentence were an inadequate penalty.
In our view, a delinquent employer in a case such as this should have to pay all the salaries outstanding, plus compensation to the workers for housing them in appalling conditions, and pay a punitive fine on top of that. This would then be a serious deterrent to such behaviour. Those tempted to behave in a similar way need to be made to know, in no uncertain terms, that they will not come out of either trial or mediation with a net financial gain and minimal career damage from their actions.
Workers taken on by an employer who fails to provide appropriate work for them and violates work permit conditions should be given the opportunity to find alternative employment; other employers should be encouraged to hire them, possibly by means of a temporary levy waiver and a tighter policy on the issuing of ‘In Principle Approvals’ for new workers to come here.
We look forward to a Singapore in which there is truly justice for all, including workers who are only present temporarily, and where no human being is valued only as a tool for making money, but is instead accorded dignity and respect. Regrettably, firm legal action against those who treat fellow human beings in a degrading and grossly exploitative way has to be one of the means to the realisation of this goal.