The Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) noted that the 2012 U.S. State Department's TIP Report has reflected the significant progress of Singapore in combating TIP. However, the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP notes several inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the Report which we would like to clarify.
Inaccuracies in the U.S. TIP report
Foreign workers employment rights
2. The Report stated that employers' ability to repatriate workers at anytime during their contracts has fuelled workers' fears of being "deported". We would like to point out that in the event of employment termination, employers are required to give their workers notice according to the period stated in the contract or, if not specified in the contract, in the Employment Act. Alternatively, the employer has to pay the workers a salary in lieu of notice. Likewise, foreign employees can terminate their contracts in the same manner.
3. Furthermore, under the Work Pass Conditions, the employer must ensure that all outstanding salaries and moneys due to the foreign employees are paid before the employee's repatriation. Failure to comply is a breach of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and the employer may face fines up to $5000 or imprisonment up to 6 months. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has an arrangement with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to refer foreign workers who express employment grievances or have outstanding claims at the immigration checkpoints to MOM for investigations.
4. We have also improved our effort to educate foreign workers on their employment rights and avenues to seek help. The In-Principle Approval (IPA) letters, which the workers receive prior to entering Singapore, are now printed in native languages and include key employment information such as the salary and allowances. Pre-departure orientation briefings have also been piloted for construction workers in China, India and Bangladesh. The briefings include topics such as contractual termination, employment terms, and avenues to seek help.
Employment bars on foreign workers
5. The Report claimed that Singaporean employers can submit complaints about worker behaviour to impose future employment bars on them. This is untrue. Singapore employers do not possess powers to place employment bars on foreign workers. Employment bars are imposed by MOM on foreign workers who have been found to have infringed Singapore laws and regulations.
Referral of MOM cases to the Police
6. The Report claimed that although the MOM conducted proactive operations to inspect repatriation companies and employment agencies – and identified passport-withholding, an indicator of human trafficking in at least 20 of these cases – it did not refer any leads to the Police for investigation or prosecution of possible trafficking.
7. To clarify, the MOM conducts preliminary investigations on employment agencies for complaints on passport-withholding to assess if there were elements of labour trafficking. For these 20 cases, elements of labour trafficking were not established; hence the cases were not referred to the Police. Passports were immediately returned to the foreign workers and the employment agencies involved were warned and issued demerit points.1
Factual Inaccuracy: Number of dubious employment agencies
8. The Report stated that the Singapore Government had assessed "1,355employment agencies" to be dubious. This statement is factually inaccurate. The Government had actually identified 1355 dubious Singapore companies and not employment agencies. This information had been provided to the U.S. State Department before the Report. In response to the question in the Report if any actions were taken against these Singapore companies, these companies were indeed debarred from hiring foreign workers.
Inaccurate Prosecution Figures
9. The Report stated that the Government had convicted four sex trafficking offenders in 2011. This is factually inaccurate. The Taskforce had five cases prosecuted with at least one accused convicted in 2011.
10. The Report also stated that there were three additional confirmed sex trafficking cases – for which no accused persons were prosecuted. This is also incorrect. We had previously conveyed to the U.S. State Department that at least one person in each of these three cases was sternly warned. The remaining accused persons were still under investigation at that time, and one of them has since been fined $13,000 and sentenced to five months imprisonment.
Redress for fishermen
11. The Report suggested that foreign fishermen face significant difficulties when attempting to seek redress for their problems, such as unpaid wages and wage deductions, which contribute to their vulnerability to trafficking. While we share similar concerns about their work conditions, Singapore does not have jurisdiction over foreign fishermen working in off-shore waters on non-Singapore flags. The Taskforce, nevertheless, proactively works with port authorities, unions, seafarer missions and civil society organisations (CSOs) to improve reporting methods, on-shore amenities, and delivery of humanitarian assistance for fishermen in need.
12. The Taskforce has visited Singapore's sea ports to study ways to improve the assistance channels for fishermen in distress. With the support of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union and various Seafarer missions, the Migrant Workers' Centre, the Ministry of Home Affairs and MOM have put up posters in the port vicinity so that distressed fishermen can call the relevant authorities and/or CSOs for assistance. Singapore also assists these fishermen by providing the facts of cases and details of the agents to foreign embassies of relevant flag stages and source countries for their follow up.
Justification of prosecution procedures
13. The Report stated that for material witnesses, the Government generally held the victims' passports and declined their requests for repatriation. The presence of witnesses in Singapore is necessary for the successful prosecution of TIP offenders. Victims who are identified to be suitable prosecution witnesses will berequested to remain in Singapore as prosecution witnesses. The decision to remain is theirs, and we will facilitate the departure of witnesses who do not wish to stay on in Singapore as prosecution witnesses.
Penalties on convicted TIP offenders
14. The Report claimed that the Singapore Government did not demonstrate increased efforts to apply stringent penalties to convicted offenders, and traffickers were given low penalties ranging from fines to nine months' imprisonment. We would like to point out that Singapore's trafficking offences carry penalties of up to 10 years. The Police and the Attorney General's Chambers work closely together to investigate and prosecute offenders, and seek deterrence sentences where applicable. The Courts will assess each trafficking case based on its unique merits and mete out penalties accordingly. For instance, a commercial sex operator involved in a sex trafficking case in 2011 was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 60 months imprisonment in April 2012.
Assistance for victims
15. The report mentioned that the Government provided funding to 24 children's homes and dormitories that could be used to house child trafficking victims and four shelters serving adults. We would like to clarify that child trafficking victims are not housed in dormitories and that as of March 2012, out of these 24 homes, 22 were children's homes and two were juvenile homes. MCYS do fund shelters that offer protection for trafficking victims, including accommodation, medical care, and counselling and translation services.
16. The Singapore Government is serious in combating human trafficking. It set up the Inter-Agency Taskforce in 2010, and launched the first National Plan of Action in March 2012. The Taskforce recognises that this endeavour requires consistent and coordinated efforts by the Government and various stakeholders. We will continue to work with NGOs, embassies, academia, private sector and the public through our NPA initiatives.
17. The Taskforce has met up with the Embassy of the United States Singapore to share with them these inaccuracies and misrepresentations we found in the U.S. TIP Report. As we progress in our anti-trafficking efforts, Singapore calls on the U.S. to improve the credibility of the State Department's annual Report by ensuring greater accuracy of facts and by making the Report's methodology more objective. This will ensure that a consistent, transparent, and measurable standard is applied across all countries, and a better understanding of the different legal structures and domestic contexts of countries ranked in the report are taken into account.
1 Employment agencies which have accumulated a total of 12 demerits points will be placed on the MOM’s surveillance list and if found again to commit an infringement under the Employment Agencies Act, may result in the forfeiture or non-renewal of their license to operate an employment agency, or/and forfeiture for their security deposit.