This picture, taken on 30 October 2023, shows Mridha the first time he came to TWC2, searching through his phone for details of his employment to show us

TWC2 sees many clients who are victims of recruitment scams, but Mridha Hossein’s case was among the most outrageous. Having completed his university education and worked for some time in Bangladesh, he ultimately realised he was not going to earn very much in his lifetime unless he migrated aboard for a better-paying job.

Through an agent, he found one in Singapore, with a company called MMT Engineering Pte Ltd. It promised him a Supervisor’s job title and a very handsome salary. He would be in the S-Pass category, not the Work Permit category. Below is the In-principle Approval (IPA) issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) confirming the job details that had been submitted by the employer.

Key part of the In-principle Approval issued for Mridha’s S-Pass

Immediately after he arrived in Singapore in August 2023 and started work, he realised that he was asked to do a job completely different from what had been promised. MMT Engineering didn’t even have construction projects of its own. Mridha was supplied out as casual labour to different worksites each day. In the video below, he describes his experience:

Being new to Singapore, he had no friends. Moved around from one worksite to another, he had no opportunity to make new friends. He was utterly alone in this city with no clue whom to turn to for help. Finally, in October 2023, a kind stranger noticed his despondency and gave him a lead – to TWC2.

After a few calls, Mridha showed up at TWC2’s free meals point (our Cuff Road Project) on 30 October 2023. He looked completely lost, and unsure how he would be received. He was equally unsure how much he should reveal of his predicament. It took a while for us to understand his story.

Once we grasped the issue, we outlined the avenue he should take: file a salary complaint at MOM. Over the following days, we helped him calculate what he was owed.

Outrageous difference in salary

Even though by this point, he had only worked two and a half months, the shortfall in salary was a large amount. His first paycheck was accompanied by a payslip which stated that he earned $668. From that amount, $148 was deducted, leaving a net $520, which was paid in cash.

His second paycheck came with a payslip showing $697 gross. After a deduction of $150, he received only $547 in cash.

It was a world away from the $3,850 in fixed monthly salary (before overtime) that he had been led to expect. Inclusive of overtime, Mridha could claim around $15,000 in unpaid wages.

At MOM, the unit handling salary claims is the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). The first stage is for TADM to arrange mediation sessions between employer and employee to see if an amicable settlement can be reached.

According to Mridha, TADM was not particularly helpful. The officer seemed to have reiterated that since his S-Pass had been cancelled by the employer, Mridha was now on a 30-day Social Visit Pass (SVP), and once those 30 days ran out, he would have to go home. To Mridha, this manifested as pressure to agree to a low amount as settlement. A figure in the region of $4,000 had been offered by the employer, a fraction of the amount owed.

Telling Mridha that he had little time left was giving him less than the whole picture. TADM should have assured him that MOM policy is that so long as a claim is pending, workers can stay on in Singapore under a Special Pass till the matter is settled. The worker is not to be repatriated until the case is resolved. Moreover, the TADM mediation stage is not the final opportunity for a worker to claim his rightful salary. If an employee finds the settlement offer unacceptably low, he has a right to take the case to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT), where he may seek a judgement in his favour. No worker should have to feel under pressure to accept a low settlement from the boss, least of all because time was running out on his pass.

When Mridha told TWC2 that TADM was using this line about time running out, we wrote an email to MOM asking that he be issued a Special Pass.

A Special Pass came through. But still, the mediation at TADM went nowhere.

Some light at the end of the tunnel

Then there was a turn of events. Another branch of MOM took an interest in this case. We believe it was the enforcement branch because here was a very stark case of an employer abusing the In-principle Approval process to hire a foreigner under false pretences. An officer interviewed Mridha and towards the end of the interview asked him what was the minimum amount he would accept as settlement for his owed salary.

Mridha said $10,000.

Through November, December and January (2024), Mridha was penniless while the case dragged on. He was not allowed to take on any new job either (conditions of the Special Pass). Unlike migrant workers in the Work Permit category who, under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations, are to be provided with housing, food and healthcare by their (former) employers even if the permit had been cancelled, S-Pass holders do not get such support from their ex-employers.

It was TWC2 that gave him the necessary support, in addition to offering counsel throughout the fraught TADM process.

Finally, MOM managed to get the boss to agree to compensating him $10,000. Mridha received this in full at the beginning of February 2024.

But Mridha had paid his recruiter the equivalent of about $12,000 for the job. So even with this settlement, he was still in the red.

Mridha does not go home happy at all. His future is even hazier now than before he decided on working abroad.

However, he is very thankful to TWC2 for being his support and strength through this harrowing period. He wouldn’t even have got this much without us.

Recruitment scams such as this one must be severely dealt with. Even so, dealing with the perpetrators after the fact is only part of the solution. As can be seen here, Mridha didn’t get full restitution. His dreams of a fruitful career lies in pieces on the ground and his confidence in Singapore is shaken.

Prevention is key

Perhaps more can be done along the lines of prevention, though the exact details of what preventive measures can be taken need a lot of thought. One thing we can think of is this: If a company is not able to show that it has in hand construction contracts of its own (as opposed to manpower supply arrangements) shouldn’t it be suspicious that it was applying to MOM for an S-Pass IPA that specifies “Construction Site Supervisor” with such a high salary?

In the course of his comments (below), TWC2’s General Manager Ethan Guo mentions one unusual feature of S-Pass jobs. Before a foreigner can be hired for an S-Pass job, employers are supposed to first advertise the job locally. Only if no locals could be found to fill the vacancy can an foreigner be hired. Was this done by MMT Engineering in this case?