SINGAPORE: About 960 cases of kickback offences were investigated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) a year between 2016 and 2020, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon on Tuesday (Jul 27).
“Of these, about two-thirds are complaints lodged by migrant workers, one-third are referrals from members of the public, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and other public agencies, while a small number are detected through MOM’s proactive inspections based on data analytics,” he said.
He was responding to parliamentary questions by MP Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) on how the ministry gets alerted to potential kickback offences and if it is strengthening efforts to encourage workers to report such offences.
Kickbacks are payments extorted from workers for them to be considered for employment.
“To encourage migrant workers to come forward to report kickbacks early without fear of reprisal from their employers, MOM will facilitate change of employment for those who wish to continue to work here in Singapore,” said Dr Koh.
“MOM will also refer affected migrant workers to selected employment agencies, which are committed not to charge these workers any fees for the job placement.”
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He added that the ministry educates first-time migrant workers on kickback offences and ways to seek help through the mandatory Settling-In Programme.
It is also working with volunteers to spread “key employment messages” and will continue working with community partners and using technology and social media to reach out to more foreign workers, he said.
PROTECTIONS FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS
In a follow-up question, Mr Ng asked if the Government could step up protection for whistleblowers, noting that Taiwan provides financial incentives for those who report kickback violations. He also asked what MOM is doing to curb the “widespread” practice.
Dr Koh responded by noting that kickback-related complaints form about 10 per cent of all the complaints that MOM receives in a typical year.
On financial incentives, he said: “I think it’s more important to help them understand what exactly is a kickback.”
“So the Settling-In Programme is a very important one to help them be aware what constitutes a kickback and then to explain to them that actually, they will be protected from loss of jobs should they report the employer for collecting illegal kickbacks.”
Strict penalties and a strong stance against employers who collect kickbacks are also key, Dr Koh said.
“The deterrence should be on the side of the employers, not so much as incentivising through financial means to actually induce our foreign workers to come forward."