TWC2 volunteer discussing the news story with Bangladeshi workers at the Cuff Road Project

In a promising development, the Ministry of Manpower has successfully prosecuted a Bangladeshi worker who acted as a job broker and who had pocketed some $30,900 in illicit profit.

Roy Tapon Kumar pleaded guilty and was fined $30,000. This was reported in a Channel NewsAsia story (Link) and on  the Ministry of Manpower’s (“MOM”) website. MOM’s statement suggests that Roy was himself a work pass holder.

Under the Employment Agencies Act, Section 6 makes it an offence for anyone to “carry on an employment agency” or “perform any work or activity…. in connection with the employment of one or more persons in any capacity”, unless one has a licence to do so. The penalty for a first offence is a fine not exceeding $80,000 or imprisonment up to two years, or both.

According to the news story, Roy acted as an agent in recruiting twelve Bangladeshi workers for Bee Teck International Pte Ltd, a company that installs and commissions telecom networks. Specifically, he “contacted the foreigners and asked them to send him copies of their passports and personal particulars which he then forwarded” to the company, reported Channel NewsAsia. He also arranged for a job interview. These activities took place between October 2015 and March 2016.

He collected fees of between $1,800 and $7,300 from each Bangladeshi worker. Neither Channel NewsAsia nor MOM stated whether Roy returned the fees to his twelve victims.

When MOM began investigating the matter, Roy apparently instigated two of these workers to lie to MOM. Roy was accused of telling the workers not to reveal that he had collected job placement fees from them. These two charges were taken into consideration during Roy’s sentencing.

MOM said in its press statement that between 2015 to the first half of this year, 15 people were convicted for conducting employment agency activities without a valid licence.

The day after the news came out on Channel NewsAsia, your writer went to TWC2’s Cuff Road Project. A Bengali-speaking volunteer translated the news story to the men queuing up for meal tokens, and a call was made amongst the gathered men to identify themselves if they too had to pay an unlicenced job broker in Singapore. Within 15 – 20 minutes, five men stepped forward. This rate of response was entirely expected since TWC2 has noticed for years that paying “agent money” to an unlicenced “agent” in Singapore — typically another Bangladeshi work pass holder — is a common occurance.

The 15 men that were convicted of the offence in the last two years, as mentioned in MOM’s press release above, were merely the tip of an iceberg.

Here are the brief stories from three of the five men who stepped forward.

Hoq Enamul

Hoq Enamul, who until recently worked for Greatsea Marine, told us that around February 2017, as he was looking for work, he met with two men who represented the company. One was a company manager named Subra and the other was named Abdul Rob (we’re not sure about the spelling in both cases). The meeting took place in Bangladesh and it appeared that the two men travelled there to recruit workers for the company.

Enamul described Subra as an Indian. Abdul Rob was a Bangladeshi working in Singapore, but to the best of Enamul’s knowledge, was not an employee of Greatsea. The fee for the privilege of getting a job at Greatsea Marine was set at 700,000 Bangladeshi taka, which is equivalent to about S$11,200. Desperate for a job, Enamul agreed. He paid 300,000 taka in cash to the two in Bangladesh. A little while later, his wife’s brother, who was then working in Singapore, paid to Abdul Rob another 400,000 taka in cash. The second payment was made in Singapore.

Only after that second payment was made was the In-Principle Approval letter (“IPA”) passed to Enamul, so that he could come to Singapore to start work. The IPA is a letter generated by MOM indicating that a work permit would be waiting for him in Singapore. The basic salary for that very expensive job was S$524 per month. A simple calculation would show that the $11,100 fee was twenty times that.

It was Miton’s father who found a job for him. The father was (and still is, at the time of the interview) working in Singapore. Sometime around April or May 2017, the father came to know a certain Anowar, who was a Bangladeshi national, but on a work pass here. Anowar said he knew of an available job. This opening was not in the same company where Anowar worked. The fee asked was $8,500.

Miton’s father paid it in cash to Anowar, whereupon Anowar passed the In-Principle Approval letter to the father who then emailed a copy of it to Miton in Bangladesh.

Hossen Mahabub

Hossen Mahabub’s story is similar. In his case it was his uncle (working in Singapore) who, in September 2016, helped look for a job for him. The uncle came to know a certain Monir who said he could arrange a job with PCM Engineering. Monir was not then an employee of PCM. Instead, the Bangladeshi national was a work pass holder with a different company.

Monir asked for $8,600, which the uncle paid in cash. The transaction took place in Singapore.

Mahabub explained that Monir has since joined PCM, and is still there. He believes the phone number he has for Monir — 8649 5267 — remains operational.