MOM wrote in dissent:
Mr Geng Jun was misled about his job scope as a noodle maker and was asked to make bean curd instead… Fact: Mr Geng Jun was aware of his job scope and terms of employment before he accepted the employment.
We do not think that MOM can so easily assert that as fact. Geng Jun repeatedly told us otherwise. Why MOM should believe other parties and not believe Geng Jun is a mystery to us. MOM continued by explaining that:
During his job interview, Mr Geng Jun’s employer explained that his job scope included making both noodles and bean curd. This was corroborated by another employee who was present. The other foreign workers doing similar work in the factory also confirmed that they were informed on the need to make both noodles and bean curd prior to employment. The job scope of making both noodles and beancurd was also communicated to the Employment Agency (EA) who placed Mr Geng Jun, and the EA’s Chinese counterpart. Mr Geng Jun accepted the employment on this basis.
Does MOM not realise that the employer’s and employment agent’s replies to their queries could be self-serving? A worker has alleged misrepresentation. What reply should we expect from the employer and his agent? How can MOM give weight to such a reply?
As for statements by other employees, TWC2 has repeatedly pointed out that they have their jobs at stake. Would they feel free to contradict their boss?
We only need to recall that Geng Jun paid thousands of dollars to get the job. No reasonable person would do so without receiving satisfactory assurances. Why does MOM accept self-serving words of the defendants and dismiss the weight of action as demonstrated by the accuser? This is exactly the kind of practice at MOM that gives cause for concern as to how they go about their investigations.
Continuing, MOM wrote:
Mr Geng Jun started employment on 12 Aug 2019, but walked out of his job the next day, claiming that he expected to only make noodles and not bean curd. We note that this was not the first time Mr Geng Jun left his employment shortly after starting work. His most recent previous employment lasted just slightly more than a month and there was another occasion where he left his job within a week of starting work.
MOM appears to be interpreting this history as a stain on Geng Jun’s character and credibility. But this is not the only possible interpretation. Geng Jun could have been duped before, leading him to quit those jobs. From TWC2’s other casework, we know that misrepresentation of job scope is quite common. If one recognises this possibility, then the act of paying about $3,100 to secure the job must be seen as supporting his claim that he had received assurances that he was to be employed solely as a noodle-maker. If one had been duped before, one would be extra-careful.
TWC2 is not asserting this particular interpretation, but we’re pointing out that MOM is too quick to arrive at a negative interpretation prejudicial to the worker when other possibilities exist.
MOM then took issue with a sentence in our article wherein we said,
The long and short of it was this: Geng Jun told us that he was advised by MOM to first try to reach an amicable settlement with the agent. If MOM were to open an investigation, it would take a long time and he’d have to stay on in Singapore — something that Geng Jun was not keen on anymore.
MOM interpreted the above to mean that we were alleging that they did not open an investigation, or rather that they were only willing to investigate Mr Geng Jun’s employment agent for overcharging if he was prepared to stay on for the duration of the investigation.
We merely reported what Geng Jun told us. That said, our experience with many other cases would corroborate what Geng Jun said he heard from his MOM case officer. Workers who have made complaints at MOM that result in investigations being opened are typically put on Special Passes and made to remain in Singapore for the duration of the investigations. This could be months, even years. We have no reason to think that Geng Jun made up what he reported his MOM officer to have said. In fact, our initial thought was that it was good of the officer to forewarn Geng Jun of that.
Continuing, MOM wrote:
MOM did initiate an investigation into Mr Geng Jun’s complaint of being overcharged by his Singapore EA.
Good, but as we have mentioned above, we’re not impressed by the quality of that investigation. We do not think that MOM has come to sufficiently convincing conclusions. We would expect investigations to continue until a better picture is obtained, especially as MOM is trying to say here that it is untrue that investigations are guillotined when a worker leaves Singapore.
MOM then provides the gist of the case:
Mr Geng Jun wanted MOM to assist him in recovering fees of approximately $3,100 that he transferred to an unidentifiable person’s PRC bank account. His friend had provided him the contact of this person when he asked for help to find a job. Mr Geng Jun did not know the identity of the person, nor had he ever met the person. He insisted that the unidentifiable person who received his fees of $3,100 was a Singapore agent. However, the Singapore EA was able to show proof that they liaised with a Chinese counterpart on Mr Geng Jun’s employment and the agreed fee charged by the Singapore EA was $1,300. This amount was indicated on both the receipt issued to Mr Geng Jun and his In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter. Mr Geng Jun did not dispute this amount.
If readers re-read our original article, we more or less said the same thing. For example, in the article, we wrote:
In any case, as we ourselves thought, there was also a Chinese party in the recruitment chain and it’s not clear what amount went to the Singapore employment agent, and what portion to the Chinese party.
In fact, the trans-national angle was the main point in our article. We argued that a rapidly spreading concept is that of clean supply chains. Global brands are being held to higher standards as to where they source their products or sub-products, and the environmental and human rights violations inherent in them. Singapore cares about its brand value, and it is important to think outside of jurisdictional boxes. Employers and employment agents are increasingly held responsible for abuses in their supply chains regardless of where they occurred and Singapore (and MOM) would do well to step up.
We wrote the article to highlight how stopping at national borders and going no further is not a good enough standard.
In this connection, there is one more detail in MOM’s explanation that we find unsatisfactory. MOM seems to accept the agent’s word at face value that all they took was $1,300 — merely on sight of the receipt. Our article raised the possibility that some part of the money that Geng Jun paid in China flowed to the agent in Singapore. We wrote that because of the legal cap on what employment agents in Singapore can visibly charge, there is possible motivation to engage in invisible charges. This is especially a risk when there is a China party involved, working in collaboration with the agent. From the above explanation by MOM, this question does not seem to have been fully checked out. Note this: Geng Jun did not hire his own agent on the China side, thus necessitating a payment from him to such agent. Both intermediaries — the Singapore-licensed agent and its Chinese counterpart — were the employer’s agents.
Notwithstanding the above, MOM assisted Mr Geng Jun to obtain a refund of $1,300 from the Singapore EA to help him with his circumstances. This was even though he was not entitled to a refund, as he was fully aware of his job requirements and chose to leave the job a day after starting work.
Firstly, we do not agree that the second sentence in the above quote is solidly grounded. But it should also be noted that our article did mention that he received a refund.
MOM has dedicated communication channels for NGOs to clarify case facts. TWC2 is aware of these channels. It is disappointing that they did not come to MOM for fact checks and chose to publish this inaccurate account instead.
TWC2 considers this a very unfair statement. Firstly, our account is not inaccurate as explained in detail above. It is only “inaccurate” if one meekly accepts that whatever MOM says or however MOM interprets things are necessarily the Great Truth. We have pointed out here that our points of difference lie in interpretation and there is no reason to think that MOM’s interpretation should be the last word on anything.
As for communication with MOM, we did communicate with the ministry over the case. We cannot help it if MOM chose to be uninformative in their replies. They cannot remain opaque on one hand while, on the other hand, accuse us of not knowing what we were not told.