Samad Hossain didn’t think it was a critical problem when, one year into his job as a construction worker, his employer began deducting $300 a month from his earnings. It was explained to him that the deductions, spread over four months (October 2010 to January 2011) and totalling $1,000 (only $100 was deducted at the last instance), was a prepayment for the renewal of his work permit.
The way he saw it, it was a form of job security. He felt somewhat assured that instead of having to go back to Bangladesh at the end of the two-year work permit, he could expect to continue working into a third and fourth year.
He was not aware of Section 25 (b) of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations, which states:
“An employer shall not deduct from any salary payable to a foreign employee, or demand or receive (directly or indirectly) from the foreign employee, any sum or other benefit . . . . as consideration or as a condition for continuing to employ the foreign employee.”
Nor was he aware of Section 26 (a) which states:
“An employer shall not deduct from any salary payable to a foreign employee, or recover (directly or indirectly) from the foreign employee . . . fees associated with the application, issuance, renewal or reinstatement of a Work Permit.”
On the contrary, many of his compatriots would have told him such deductions were almost routine. The practice is so widespread, many think that it is customary and entirely legal.
Then fate intervened. On June 24, 2011, while carrying a heavy piece of metal, he slipped and fell. His back and left shoulder were injured. Six months after the injury, Samad is still under treatment at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, with one or two appointments a months.
On October 17, 2011, his work permit was cancelled. It had been due for renewal on October 18, and prior to that he had held on to the hope, despite being on medical leave, that it would be renewed. He would be more than happy to return to work as soon as he recovered. Now it was plain that it was not to be.
What about the $1,000 then?
He lodged a claim at the Ministry of Manpower, and clearly the ministry took the matter seriously. Samad Hossain told TWC2 that his case was referred to the Kim Seng branch of the ministry, signifying that an investigation into a possible offence has begun.
Said TWC2 treasurer Alex Au: “The common practice of deducting monies from workers for work permit renewal flags a much larger problem — that of kickbacks received by employers for giving jobs to foreign workers.
“Some employers want money for renewal to make up for the kickback foregone. If an employer hires a new worker, he would typically receive a sum via the agents, but which would have originated from the worker, mostly without the latter’s knowledge. Such an employer would want a similar level of profit should he renew an existing worker instead of hiring a new one.”
This is not to say that all employers of foreign labour engage in such a practice, but given prevalence of deductions for work permit renewal, those who don’t may well be the exceptions to the general rule.
Kickbacks for giving new jobs are equally illegal. Section 25(a) of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations says:
“An employer shall not deduct from any salary payable to a foreign employee, or demand or receive (directly or indirectly) from the foreign employee, any sum or other benefit . . . as consideration or as a condition for employing the foreign employee.”
The penalty for the above offences is a fine up to $5,000 or imprisonment for up to six months or to both. This is prescribed by the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, Section 22.
“It is outrageous that businessmen are taking advantage of the poor from India, China and Bangladesh by this illegal practice,” says Au. “And the fact that it is so widespread is even more troubling, for it indicates a lack of sufficient enforcement.”
Hopefully, Samad’s case represents a new determination to stamp out the practice.