Tag Archives: prosecution

A prolonged, bitter revenge

Employers don’t like it when their foreign domestic workers file a complaint against them with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Many will repatriate their domestic workers to punish them for their actions. Others go a step further and seek revenge by filing their own complaints, often by accusing them of theft. In most cases it is the employer’s word against that of the domestic worker. Investigations take a long time, in which the domestic worker is not allowed to work, nor leave the country. She is punished whether the claim is substantiated or not.

This is the story of Ellaine, who’s employers were dedicated to get their revenge, and punish Ellaine ‘to the end of her days’ for filing a salary complaint. For them, one unsupported accusation was not enough.

Ellaine had been working for her employer for three months when ‘madam’ lost a golden ring. She asked Ellaine whether she had seen it, and they searched the house together. The ring wasn’t found, and madam left it at that.

Four months later, Ellaine approached her employer, as her passport required renewing. She needed money to pay the associated fees. The employer insisted Ellaine pay for it herself, but Ellaine did not have much cash, as her employer was withholding her salary. Ellaine decided to run away and approach HOME for help. HOME referred her to MOM, who settled Elaine’s salary claim swiftly. When the employer met Ellaine at MOM, she demanded to search her belongings. She found nothing.

That was not the end of the story. Ellaine’s employer now accused her of stealing the golden ring. Since there was no evidence to support this, the case was closed by the police. Still, that was not the end of the story. The employer subsequently accused Ellaine of molesting their eight-year-old son – in the bathroom. Again, for lack of evidence, the police closed the case. Ellaine was told she would be able to go home within a few days, as soon as her former employer had bought her a ticket.

And the employer refused to buy the ticket. Instead, seven months after Ellaine ran away to settle her salary complaint, her employer once again accused her with theft of the ring. Ellaine was interviewed once more by the police, by a different, less friendly officer this time. Afterwards, Ellaine was notified by letter that her case was under investigation, and that she had to remain in Singapore on a special pass for the time being.

By then, it had been eight months since Ellaine had been able to work, and make money. She wanted to go home and spend time with her family, especially her young son and ailing father.

But her former employer was tenacious. In a text message to Ellaine’s cousin, he stated: ‘I will not cancel her work permit for the rest of her days. I am prepared to pay levy, she will be stuck here for another 18mths without salary.’

HOME assisted Ellaine with legal support, and nine months after she left employer, Ellaine’s case has finally been resolved. She is happy to go home.

HOME hopes the Singapore police will be just when employers try to seek revenge on their domestic workers by accusing them of crimes, look at the facts, and not allow a single employer to ruin a domestic worker’s life simply by piling up unsupported claims ‘to the end of her days.’ Not only does the domestic worker lose months of time and income, as she has to remain in Singapore without the opportunity to work during the investigations, but it also wastes valuable police time, that is better spent at investigating crimes that in fact have been committed.

Ellaine’s name has been changed for privacy reasons

Warned not to sign

A while back HOME blog wrote about Warning Letters, which are issued by the Police informing domestic workers that they ‘have been issued a stern warning in lieu of prosecution.’ Such warning letters may sound harmless, but the consequences are not. It presumes guilt when the case is not even tried in court. The implication of this for migrant workers is significant. Their work permits may be revoked and they are blacklisted. Recently, HOME saw another case involving a warning letter. This time, with the help of one of HOME’s pro-bono lawyers, the ending was much more happy.

Grace comes from a poor family in the Philippines. She had to stop her education for lack of money, and when she got offered a job as a domestic worker in Singapore, she was happy to take it to support the family’s income. Grace spent the day looking after a baby boy whilst the employer and her husband Harry worked irregular shifts.

The family shared a single bedroom in an apartment they inhabited together with several other families. One day, as Grace was in the bedroom with the baby, Harry came back early from work. He had lost his keys. Harry banged the door, harder and harder, but Grace, who did not expect anyone and had closed the door because the baby was sleeping, could not hear him. Harry rattled the grille, shouted, until at last Grace heard him and let him in.

Harry kept on shouting at Grace, using nasty swear words, and accusing her of taking his keys. When Grace went out to the rubbish chute with the garbage, he kept shouting at her, and started shoving her. Back inside he showered her with strong blows. Grace tried to defend herself using her arms, but Harry was bigger and stronger, and he struck her hard in the eye.

Grace hid behind a table, but Harry kept coming for her. Desperate to defend herself, she grabbed a bottle from behind her and hurled it at her attacker. Soon after that another tenant of the building arrived, stopping any further violence.

Harry immediately denied that he had hurt Grace, but her bruised and swollen eye proved otherwise. Neither he nor his wife wanted to help Grace, and eventually she borrowed some money to go to a doctor on her day off.

When she got back, one of the tenants told Grace that Harry had gone to the police. Grace worried about what he had told them, so she decided to go to the police herself to give them her side of the story. The police interviewed Grace, took pictures of her swollen eye, sent her to the hospital and eventually referred her to HOME. After two months of investigations, Grace was still not told what had been concluded. Instead, she was served with a ‘letter of warning’ for causing voluntary hurt. Grace knew about these letters, as a friend of hers at the HOME shelter had signed one not long ago. She knew, that if she signed, she could not work in Singapore again.

‘I refused to sign the letter, because I want to work. I am abused myself, so why do they issue me with a warning letter?’

The police told her she should have used her arms to defend herself, and not a bottle. She was also told if she did not sign the letter, her case would proceed to court.

‘My uncle is bigger than I am, how could I defend myself with my hands only?’

After Grace refused to sign the warning letter, HOME assigned her a pro-bono lawyer, who made representations to persuade the Attorney General not to proceed with any charges, or issue the ‘letter of warning’ that would have huge implications for Grace. The lawyer stressed that Grace was in fact the one who had been abused, and that she had had no choice but to defend herself. Also, importantly, Grace’s actions had not in fact seemed to have caused any harm to Harry.

In the end, Grace’s charges were dropped. She has found a new employer, and will start her new job shortly, thanks to the efforts of the pro-bono lawyer supplied by HOME. Fortunately for Grace, her bravery to resist signing the police warning letter allowed HOME to make representations on her behalf to the AGC. It would have been difficult to quash a warning letter that has already been signed. But not everyone is lucky or as plucky as Grace. Without access to lawyers, most just succumb to pressure. In HOME’s other cases, workers have informed us that they were threatened with jail terms if they didn’t sign, and were discouraged from taking their cases to trial. It is also a fact that workers who are facing prosecution are not allowed to work to support themselves or their families. Under such circumstances, many end up signing such warning letters against their will.

Repatriated without due process

Gita*, who comes from a rural village in India does not speak much English. But as the main breadwinner for her family, she decided to apply for a job as a domestic worker in Singapore. Gita worked for her Singapore employer for a year, but was not very happy. One day, according to Gita, her employer slapped her and twisted her arm. Gita told her employer that he had to stop this abusive behaviour, or else she would report him to MOM. A day later, he put her on a plane back to India.

Still in need of money, Gita decided to put her experience behind her and return to Singapore to work for another employer. She got her ‘In Principal Approval (IPA) from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and boarded the flight the Singapore. When she handed over her documents at customs, the Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority took her aside. Gita was handcuffed and arrested.

Gita struggled to understand what was happening to her. She was being accused of using her employer’s credit card without permission. The amount that she allegedly stole is unclear. Gita admits to having handled the card given to her by her employer to buy groceries, and some personal items. She insists that she had permission to do so, and that the money she spent for herself was deducted from her salary. It is Gita’s word against her employer’s.

Gita stayed in HOME’s shelter while investigations continued. Gita was not charged, but was this week instead issued with a ‘Letter of Warning’. The letter was written in English, and stated that investigations had been completed and that the police had decided that ‘a stern warning would be administered to [Gita] in lieu of prosecution.’ Gita was told to sign the letter. According to her, it was only translated into Tamil after she had signed it.

HOME has met many domestic workers and foreign workers whose work permits were revoked even though they have not been convicted for any wrongdoing but were issued a warning letter which they were unable to challenge. These workers are usually not allowed to return to Singapore to work. Gita was not given any information about the reasons for the warning letter or her options to appeal it.

Foreign workers’ entitlement to due judicial process has been the subject of discussion in the past. In the context of the Little India riots in 2013, the Ministry of Law stated “a foreign national who is subject to repatriation… has no right under our laws to challenge the repatriation order in court.” However, when such repatriation is based on evidence that is not independently tested by a court, and carries consequences similar to a criminal conviction (such as a ban on returning to Singapore to work), is it right that a worker who maintains her innocence would not be given the opportunity to defend herself?

Gita has less than a week to leave Singapore. As she has not been able to work and make any money in Singapore, HOME is raising the money for her ticket back to India.

To help HOME help Gita and people like her, please donate to our fund for repatriating migrant workers in distress here. Include the name ‘Gita’ in the comment field.

* Gita’s name has been changed to protect her privacy

Campaigning for victims’ rights: #StopTraffickingSG

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a violation of human rights. Every year men, women and children are deceived or coerced into leaving their homes and moving to Singapore only to end up in jobs and working conditions they did not expect. However, even after discovering that they have been deceived, many of them find it difficult to leave because of huge debts they own to recruiters, or because they face nothing but poverty in their home countries. These men, women and children may also be physically, psychologically, and sexually abused, and have to work long hours with inadequate rest. They may also be verbally abused or threatened by their employers and recruiters.

A few months ago Singaporean MP Mr Christopher De Souza proposed to draft a Private Member’s Bill dedicated to combating human trafficking. HOME was present at public consulations held The aim is to present the Bill in parliament in November 2014. HOME welcomes the new Bill, and hopes it will be a significant step in combating human trafficking in Singapore.

HOME, together with other Singaporean Non-Governmental Organisations AWARE, TWC2, Healthserve and MARUAH has organised the StopTraffickingSG Campaign, which will run from now until the presentation of the Bill in Parliament.

The StopTraffickingSG campaign aims to create more awareness on Human Trafficking issues in Singapore, and to urge the government to adopt a victim-centred approach in the drafting of the Bill on Prevention of Human Trafficking. The campaign organisers feel that without this, the Bill will not be sufficiently effective in combating Human Trafficking.

StopTrafficking SG recommends the following to be considered:

  1. Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counselling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is on-going.
  1. Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked. 
  1. Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is on-going.

Victim’s rights need to be taken into consideration to ensure detection and prosecution of traffickers and trafficking-related crimes. If not, many victims will opt to return to their home countries without making a formal complaint to the authorities, rendering the Bill ineffective.

At the moment, trafficked victims are often reluctant to file complaints and claim justice. Investigations and legal proceedings may take several months or even up to two years before being resolved, during which time the victims are obliged to remain in Singapore. It is not guaranteed they will have the option to work during investigations, and many, being the breadwinners of their families, can simply not afford to stay to file a complaint. Sometimes victims are even prosecuted for being undocumented immigrants, or for working illegally, often unknowingly and due to the actions of their traffickers. The victim’s fear for the authorities stops them from seeking help.

Inclusion of victim’s rights will also align Singapore’s laws with international standards. A clear framework to protect victims of trafficking in Singapore strengthens relations with our neighbours, who are the main source countries of victims trafficked through and to Singapore.

Guaranteeing the  victims’ safety, livelihood and sustenance in the Bill will give victims of Human Trafficking the incentive to report, identify and testify against perpetrators. This will aid the effective prosecution of employers and recruiters involved in trafficking persons into Singapore, and in turn assist the destruction of trafficking syndicates as well as bring justice to victims and reduce crimes that threaten the security of Singapore.

Visit the Campaign website, for updates and Human Trafficking Stories: http://stoptraffickingsg.wordpress.com/

Or find StopTraffickingSG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Stoptraffickingsg

Please sign our Petition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of Trafficked Persons in Singapore. Everyone with a valid address in Singapore is eligible to sign, regardless of nationality.

Read here HOME’s full response to the proposed Bill: Position Paper on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill,

Want to learn more about what Human Trafficking is? Check out these websites with useful information:

United Nations

www.humantrafficking.org 

AGC must go further to address abuse case delays

HOME welcomes statements by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) that it has formed a working group to focus on expediting the prosecution of employers who abuse their domestic workers and to look into compensation options for victims (“AGC studying ways to speed up cases involving abused foreign workers”, The Straits Times, 4 August 2014). However, more must be done to assist abused foreign domestic workers in Singapore. 

The slow pace of abuse investigations in Singapore takes its toll on victims of abuse. As The Sunday Times reported on 3 August 2014, HOME’s shelter hosts abused domestic workers who must remain in Singapore to assist investigations. Many are stuck here for years. This long wait has a heavy impact; emotionally, physically and financially. Whilst speeding up the investigations would help these women get home sooner, this is not enough.

As AGC recognises, abused foreign domestic workers in Singapore deserve compensation for their ordeals. However, the compensation framework needs to be streamlined and standardized. Further, compensation assessments must reflect the trauma and abuse suffered by a worker, as well as upkeep and opportunity costs. Most abused domestic workers rely on organizations like HOME to provide them with food and shelter, despite employers’ obligations to meet these needs under the Employment of Foreign Manpower framework. In addition, every day that a worker waits in our shelter is one in which she is not earning any salary.

Through no fault of their own, abused workers are left with no way to support the families who are waiting for them back home. Thus, it is crucial that victims of abuse are given a decent opportunity to work while they wait. Currently, abused domestic workers are unable to work in other sectors, but many tell us that they are afraid to work in another household after the trauma they suffered. Allowing these women to work elsewhere (for example in the service industry) would allow them to productively use their waiting time; alleviating a heavy financial and emotional burden.

HOME is heartened by AGC’s commitment to improving the plight of abused domestic workers in Singapore. We hope that the working group recognizes not only the need for abuse cases to be concluded more quickly, but also for domestic workers to be given fair compensation for their ordeals and a fair opportunity to work while they wait.

Deported, not protected

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Selvan and Kalai were deceived by an agent, threatened by their employer and worked for weeks for no pay. Now, they are accused of working illegally. Kalai must leave Singapore this week, empty-handed. HOME has been assisting these workers with their cases.

Living in Sri Lanka, where the economy has been ravaged by years of civil war, Selvan and Kalai were desperate for jobs that would allow them to earn a living. When their best friend Ravi introduced them to an agent who promised them a high paying job at a Singapore hotel in return for $3,000 each, they borrowed money and pawned all of their families’ jewellery in the hope of a better life.

Selvan and Kalai arrived in Singapore to find that instead of the high-paying hotel job promised to them, they found themselves washing dishes at different restaurants for 12 hours a day. They were not allowed any rest, and given only one meal a day. None of Selvan’s and Kalai’s salary ever reached them; the restaurants paid their supervisor, Bala.

After weeks of unpaid labour in such harsh conditions, Selvan and Kalai were overcome with frustration. They asked Bala to send them back home, but their requests were brushed aside and they were instead promised that their salaries would be paid soon.

Unknown to Kalai and Selvan, they were working illegally as they had no work permits. One month later, Kalai was caught by MOM. Upon hearing of Kalai’s arrest, Selvan decided to surrender himself.

Deeply indignant about their plight, both Kalai and Selvan tracked down Bala’s whereabouts and confronted him, only to be met with threats to kill them and their families. Given that Bala knows precisely where they live in Sri Lanka from the information they supplied to get their jobs, even now, Kalai and Selvan live in constant fear that these threats will be realized.

Kalai and Selvan were victims of deception, with the agent in Sri Lanka abusing their financial vulnerability. They were forced to work for no pay, and threatened with violence when they questioned their employer. They did not receive a single cent for their work in Singapore. They say that they did not know that they were not supposed to be working in Singapore and were cheated by their employer. However, Kalai and Selvan have not been treated as victims of exploitation in Singapore. Rather, they have been investigated. Kalai will be deported from Singapore this week for overstaying his visa.

Kalai’s story highlights the difficulties faced by migrant workers who want to report exploitation by their employers. Faced with huge debts, threats, and the prospect of being deported rather than protected, exploited foreign workers like Kalai and Selvan have little incentive to report the abuses they face.

Kalai must leave Singapore this week and will not be allowed to return to Singapore to work for one year. He will leave empty handed. As Kalai says, he has not even paid for the t-shirt that he is wearing. Kalai is left with dreams of a better life shattered, huge debts, and without any justice. He wanted to share his story in the hope that it would stop other workers falling into the trap that they did.

MOM is still investigating Selvan’s case. He may be eligible to continue working in Singapore.

Update: since this story was published, in response to HOME’s referral, MOM recognised that elements of human trafficking were present in Kalai’s case. MOM stated that Kalai would not be treated as an offender and would be allowed to work in Singapore again. Kalai has now left Singapore.

The names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the victims. To donate to HOME, visit www.home.org.sg.