Employment of Foreign Manpower Act amended

Acting minister for manpower Tan Chuan-Jin speaking in Parliament on Tuesday about the changes to the Foreign Manpower Act. (Television screengrab)

Amendments to Singapore’s law on the employment of foreign manpower will give more power to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to clamp down on errant employers and foreign workers, says Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.

The changes approved by Parliament include enhanced penalties, the conversion of certain criminal breaches to administrative ones so that errant employers can be more quickly penalised and the appointment of Commissioners to enforce MOM regulations more stringently.

These come in the wake of public calls for greater enforcement on employers exploiting foreign workers and flouting the existing system of regulations here, given the substantial proportion of Singapore’s population that foreigners currently make up.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Tan said these amendments will “enable (the MOM) to step up enforcement against errant employers and syndicates, and to look after Singaporeans at the same time and to protect the majority of employers who are law-abiding”.

On the issue of enhanced penalties, Tan said fines for infringements will be increased to a maximum penalty of S$20,000 per infringement, in order to more accurately reflect and disgorge illegally-obtained economic profits on the part of employers.

Coupled with the ministry’s move to classify certain infringements as administrative in nature, Tan said the MOM will be able to step up enforcement and increase its effectiveness, and that its commissioners will be able to take faster action against infringements.

Newly-appointed enforcement commissioners will also be empowered to administer the revised regime, impose fines, debar employers from applying for and renewing work passes and direct employers to pay compensation to an employee, should any be due, for instance. They will also be given inquiry powers, and can convene hearings without legal counsel to keep proceedings quicker and with lower costs.

Tan also highlighted five areas of infringements to the foreign manpower act that his ministry is focusing on: Syndicates that set up shell businesses and illegally import and supply foreign workers, foreign workers who submit forged educational qualifications, people who get employment kickbacks, employers that illegally recover employment costs from foreign workers or pay CPF to local “phantom workers” to inflate foreign worker quota.

These changes will take effect by the end of this year, alongside a separate MOM review of the same Act, said Tan, in order to “rationalise and clarify the employment responsibilities of employers, foreign workers and foreign domestic workers”.

“We are committed to ensuring the well-being of workers as well as an equitable balance of rights and responsibilities between employers and workers,” he added.