Bad boss: Sentosa Cove woman jailed for abusing domestic workers

A 58-year-old woman was sentenced to 10 months in jail today for abusing two domestic workers in her Paradise Island home in Sentosa Cove.

According to testimony from the victims, Tan Lee Hoon kicked one of them while she was putting her socks on for her because Tan was angry she had done so incorrectly. She also pinched the other worker.

Tan used to work as a director and secretary at Novena Medical Centre and had claimed trial to eight assault charges involving Joan Lozares Lizardo and Jenefer Vegafria Arangote.

Assault started in 2015

Tan was found to have assaulted Arangote on five occasions in September 2018, pinching her on the abdomen, chest and limbs.

During the trial, Lizardo said that Tan hit her many times between October 2015 and October 2018.

She was not able to recall the exact details of these incidents except for an incident in October 2018 when Tan was wearing a ring on her finger and hit Lizardo hard on her head.

Her accounts were also corroborated by two other domestic workers, Gaborone Clayrimae Balasa and Zin Mar Phyo, who had also worked for Tan.

The Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPPs) said, “She felt pain when the accused hit her. She was almost bending down to put on the accused’s socks when the accused hit her head. She explained that the accused was very angry and had been screaming for her socks.”

In another similar incident, Lizardo was on the front porch of the Paradise Island house when Tan kicked her in the chest because Lizardo was putting on her socks wrongly.

The DPPs said that the kick was painful and Lizardo could still feel the pain after five days.

In a medical examination after the incident, the doctor confirmed that she had tenderness over her sternum, consistent with the injury inflicted by a kick to the chest.

All work and no rest

During the trial, District Judge Salina Ishak also brought up examples where Tan had imposed long working hours on her domestic workers and even docked their salaries with she was not happy with their work.

She agreed with the prosecution that the working conditions for both victims were “oppressive and exploitative”.

It was also mentioned that she did not give the victims enough time to eat.

Unknown who lodged the report

Police officers went to Tan’s home after the incidents and statements were taken.

It is unknown who alerted the police in the first place.

The DPPs said, “We highlight that neither Jenefer nor Joan actually reported the abuse to the police, that Joan informed (a policewoman) that she did not know why the police officers were at the house, and that Jenefer had no idea the police were coming.”

The prosecution also said that both Arangote and Lizardo were credible and candid witnesses and their evidence should be given full weight.

Husband and wife team

Both Lizardo and Arangote were employed by Tan and her husband Sim Guan Huat as domestic workers.

In May 2021, her husband pleaded guilty to three charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

He also admitted to conspiring with a friend to illegally employing a domestic worker.

Sim and his family had been debarred from applying for work permits for domestic workers (though it is unclear why) so he conspired with his friend Tan Chong Choon to get a work permit for Lizardo.

Denies all charges

Tan was ordered by Judge Salina to pay S$2,500 (US$ 1,900) to Lizardo and S$5,100 to Arangote as compensation.

Despite statements from different sources, Tan denied all the charges and even claimed to be shocked when prosecuted for the crimes.

She denies ever causing hurt to any of her workers or abusing them.

Apparently, she had even provided the contact details of her other domestic workers to the police officers, hoping their statements would clear her name.

Tan’s defence lawyers argued that she had no criminal record, had treated her domestic helpers well and was of good character.

They also included in their submissions character references by Tan’s friends, former domestic workers and other witnesses who have seen her interactions with her maids.

“However, it is jarring that the clear and consistent evidence from her previous domestic helpers was that she had been abusive towards Joan on many occasions,” the DPPs said.

Her defence lawyer said that she intends to appeal against her conviction and sentence. Her bail has been set at S$15,000.

“Compensation for their pain and suffering”

Judge Salina said before the sentencing, “All maids should be treated with dignity and respect… The victims ought to be compensated for their pain and suffering.”

She also said that the protection of domestic workers from abuse “is always a matter of public interest”.

She acknowledged that the two victims suffered physical and psychological harm.

On top of that, the victims were afraid to report the abuse to the authorities for fear that they might be sent back home to the Philippines or blacklisted from working in Singapore.

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