Which one is the fake training centre?

A Bangladeshi worker, whom we will refer to here as Mohsin (not his real name) messages us on our hotline. He writes: “Last 27 November 2023, I have attended BCA skill test exam but still now they did not give me the result.” BCA is the Building and Construction Authority. The “they” that Mohsin refers to is not the BCA, but the training centre where he sat for the skills upgrading test. The test would be aligned with BCA’s standards and workers refer to it as the “BCA exam”.

As our conversation with Mohsin continues, we see the outline of the story. He signed up with a training centre, which we will refer to here as ABC (not its real name), but Mohsin was instead directed to another training centre for courses and the exam. We look up BCA’s list of approved training centres and find that ABC is not on the list. However, the main centre where he went for his courses and exam is an approved training centre.

Mohsin tells us that he paid up for his course. It was ABC Training Centre that he paid to. It appears that ABC was acting as a reseller of skills upgrading courses.

Mohsin tried several times to get to the root of the problem why his certificate was not being sent to him. He writes to us: “Then I asked my sub centre …  they always talk to me wait wait.” Eventually, he found out that his certificate is ready, but since ABC had not forwarded his fees to the main training centre, the certificate is being held back. What can he do now? Mohsin asks us.

Didn’t even get to attend any classes

“Eight months ago, I signed up for a skills upgrading course, but they have not assigned me any class to attend,” says another Bangladeshi worker Billal (not his real name) calling into our hotline.

Billal paid a total of $1,600, and is now asking TWC2 for advice as to what he can do.

We ask him what is the name of the training centre he signed up with. He gives us a name – we will call it XYZ Training Centre for now. We do a check but cannot find XYZ’s name on the list of approved training centres, even though it has a business address in the Soon Lee Road area, with a façade loudly advertising its courses. Billal showed us a photo of it.

At first glance, XYZ was trying to be a training centre, sans licence. However, it is also possible that it was trying to be a reseller (but didn’t tell him that was the plan) and ultimately, it didn’t sign Billal up with any approved training centre. At the very least, it seems to have represented to Billal that it could get him into a BCA exam, and (subject to passing the exam) get him a BCA skills certificate. To what extent is such representation false, misleading or illegal?

We respond to Billal and Mohsin to say we will help them raise the matter with the BCA if they wish us to. The matter is pending as we write this story.

Profile fit

Meanwhile, we are curious about these two companies which we have called ABC and XYZ in this story. We look up their company information and learn that they fit the profile of many other companies that feature in what the workers call “scams”.

(It’s too early to say these were scams, so we are not about to use that characterisation here until we have more information about what really happened.)

XYZ is wholly owned by a Singapore citizen with a Bangladeshi name, but he is not a director of the company. Instead, the sole director is someone with what looks like a Malay name, also a Singapore citizen. This director does not hold any shares in XYZ, and may be a nominee director. Now, why is the sole owner not also a director of the company?

ABC is two-thirds owned by a Singapore citizen with what looks like an Indian name. He is also a director of the company. The remaining one-third of the shares are owned by a Bangladeshi citizen, residing in Bangladesh. He is not a director of ABC.

Bangladeshi workers in Singapore feel more comfortable when dealing with businesses that also speak their language, and this creates opportunities for small businesses with Bangladeshi owners or partners. Either they interpose themselves as intermediaries between the worker and the true service provider (in this case, the fully-licensed training centre) or don’t even bother with that and be no more than a fake training centre, relying on language affinity to win workers’ trust.

It also mirrors the pattern in Bangladesh itself where there are only a handful of licensed BCA exam centres, but dozens (maybe a hundred) of training centres without BCA licences, feeding their trainees (if they’re so lucky) to the licensed centres. This situation has existed for years. We wrote about it in 2013 “Training centres in Bangladesh have become money-minting machines“.

Singapore’s dirty underbelly

While taking down the money-making pyramid in Bangladesh may prove difficult, we should be able to do better when the mess occurs right here in Singapore.

We should crack down on any company that purports to offer skills training to construction workers unless that company is an approved training centre with appropriate facilities. Reselling should not be allowed either, since it only creates confusion and commission rake-offs.

The counter argument is that workers should themselves be careful who they sign up with. While there is some merit to the argument, in the context of non-English-speaking low-wage foreigners in Singapore, such an argument is also divorced from reality. How many workers know that there is a distinction between a BCA-approved training centre and a non-approved one? How many workers even know where to check whether a training centre is BCA-approved or not? They didn’t grow up in Singapore (the worker Mohsin only arrived in Singapore in the last two years) and are not used to the way things are done here, full of bureaucratic rules and licences. How are they to know that one signboard advertising BCA skills training is legit and another signboard is not?

If Singapore wants to be a place which migrant workers value as a destination, then we must make sure the business environment is clean. Shrugging our shoulders when workers get ripped off is not in our own interest at all.

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