Imagine getting up in the middle of the night and feeling parched. In the darkness, you feel and fumble your way to the kitchen.
You make it three steps into the kitchen before tripping over something on the floor that you’re sure isn’t usually there in the day.
“Ow,” says the something.
Horrified (and thirsty because you haven’t drunk your water yet), you flick the light switch and find that its somethings, a bunch of adults camping in sleeping bags in your kitchen.
…yeah, that’s not exactly what we’re up against here.
But it’s a tad bit different.
You tripped over zero people because they are virtual squatters. And you didn’t find them in the kitchen but on the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website. You weren’t thirsty either.
Last week, a man discovered five foreign workers registered under his home address and took to Facebook to spread the word.
The Singaporean checked the MOM website after he got the memo from his neighbor that other residents in The Flora-vale were facing this issue.
True enough, he found five foreigner workers registered under his residential address, which means that as far as MOM, the Government and anyone who checks the records is concerned, these people have been living with the man, even if not physically.
This makes the man and his family vulnerable to the consequences of any misconduct on the strangers’ part, such as borrowing of money from loan sharks or any crimes committed, so understandably this isn’t a pleasant find at all.
How and Why?
The man reported this to MOM and emailed the workers’ companies to update them on this find, wondering if this “is the work of hiring company or the employment agent.”
In accordance with the Employment of the Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA), employers must ensure that their foreign workers live in proper housing, and provide the workers’ residential addresses to MOM.
So firstly, it is probably a good guess that it was not the foreign workers themselves who did this since it is the employer’s responsibility to provide the workers’ residential addresses.
Secondly, it might have been done because the foreign workers’ actual living quarters do not meet the requirements of “proper housing”.
The listing of false workers’ addresses has been discussed in The Straits Times before.
Some employers are known to declare that their employees are living in approved housing while putting them in cheaper places like shophouses, factory-converted dorms or construction site quarters.
Which, obviously, isn’t legal.
Cheating the System
Cheating the system is simple because of the ease of the address registration process. It only requires employers to log in with their SingPass IDs and passwords, before they’re free to key in any address for their workers. It will work as long as the accommodation listed (like purpose-built dormitories) has not reached its maximum occupancy.
After, they continue to go unnoticed since it is hard for MOM to verify the addresses of all 771,100 work permit holders.
That said, MOM addressed the article in question to say that this is not really a widespread practice.
They’ve also confirmed that outright false declaration of addresses gets employers fines of up to $20,000 and /or up to 24 months’ imprisonment for each false declaration.
False addresses also do not always imply that foreign workers are housed in sub-standard conditions.
What You Should Do
As the man encouraged, check the MOM website to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
Also, since MOM can’t verify the lodgings of the entire pool of foreign talent in Singapore, I’m guessing that checking yourself and reporting any false addresses will also help them out.