In an encouraging development, the prosecutor in a recent case made the argument that using the threat of dismissal and repatriation to compel foreign workers to accept lower wages would constitute an offence. According to a news story in Today newspaper, Nallusamy Narayanan, the boss of a number of companies under the Harri name, had done this to two workers.

The court heard that Nallusamy had threatened two foreign workers into accepting lower basic monthly salaries — S$900 instead of the S$2,300 they were initially promised — saying that their work passes would be cancelled and they would be repatriated.

The prosecution said: “(The two victims) unwillingly accepted the lower salary offered … as they had borrowed or spent substantial amounts of resources to work in Singapore, and did not wish to risk losing their employment and return home empty-handed.”

— Today, 24 February 2017, Employer jailed for forcing workers to take less pay, housing them poorly. Link.

Harri Construction workers first came to TWC2 for help in September 2014, and we wrote up their stories in an earlier post: Months after initial complaints to ministry, housing and salary abuses still surfacing.

It is not clear which statute the prosecutor and court used to convict Nallusamy for this abuse. It would be good to know the details, it being a useful precedent. It is surely the case that he had similarly imposed lower salaries on more workers than these two, but perhaps the evidence in other cases was not as strong. Such a practice, known as “contract substitution” is widespread.

Nallusamy was convicted over a total of 25 charges. most of which related to “unacceptable accommodation” for his employees. The news report mentioned that the offences occurred “between  February and November 2014 and involved at least 100 victims.”

The court heard that Nallusamy also put up at least 100 workers at four premises along Opal Crescent, Tanjong Katong Road and Selegie Road, which the authorities found to be unsafe and overcrowded.

The Opal Crescent premises, for instance, was for commercial use and had 42 foreign workers housed in two rooms. These workers shared two toilets and two shower facilities. The unit did not have a proper escape route in case of a fire.

Guidelines from the Urban Redevelopment Authority specify that private residential properties cannot house more than eight workers per unit.

Each of these workers “suffered immense discomfort” due to overcrowding and were exposed to danger, as some premises had shower facilities that were installed next to electrical points, the court was told.

“It was only fortuitous that no lives were lost,” the prosecutors from the Manpower Ministry said.

— ibid.

Our earlier story mentioned that the employer had failed to pay the monthly levies to MOM, and as a result, MOM had revoked the men’s Work Permits. However, the boss continued to put them to work. This was despite not having paid them salaries for several months.

This angle also featured in the charges against Nallusamy.

The 41-year-old was also taken to task for falsely declaring his workers’ salaries and employing workers without a valid work pass.

— ibid.

Nallusamy was sentenced to 34 weeks’ jail.

Threatening foreign workers that unless they accepted a lower salary, they’d lose their jobs and be sent home despite having incurred huge costs to obtain those jobs, is a very common practice.  TWC2 comes across similar cases at least weekly. It would be good if MOM takes action against more employers than an isolated one here and there.