Foreword: Funny things happen sometimes. For two years, I wanted to explore repatriation companies in my fiction, and why the authorities have not done anything about them. The fifth Michael Chang story involves one such company. I was planning that story when I received a certain assignment: write an original piece of journalism for my degree program. Naturally, I decided to write about repatriation companies in Singapore.
It was supposed to be just homework. But the public interest demands going further. So I am publishing this story online. I only had 350 words to work with, but it was not enough to cover the scope of the issue. So I have added additional sentences, marked in italics, that were not in the article I submitted.
Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) questioned on Wednesday the Joint Proactive Enforcement Inspections on Repatriation Companies in November. Conducted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), police and Civil Defence Force, the inspections found “no infringement” of the law.
Foreign workers who are dissatisfied with their employers may lodge complaints with the MOM. The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) claim that rogue repatriation companies coerce these workers into withdrawing their complaints. Tactics include threats, verbal abuse, illegal confinement, confiscating passports and personal belongings, and in rare cases assault. The NGOs also claim that some employers hire repatriation companies to pre-emptively abduct and repatriate “troublesome” workers, preventing them from raising complaints. Employers may also blacklist such workers, preventing them from ever returning to Singapore.
Mr Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of HOME, said, “I think the way [the inspections] were conducted were not sensitive to the situation. It’s unrealistic to expect migrant workers to complain about their plight to Ministry officials in the presence of repatriation company staff.” He added that he had questions with how the interviews were planned and how the questions were posed to the workers.
Mr Russell Heng, President of TWC2, asked, “What is the definition the Ministry used for infringement? If the police mount a check one night on a few roads and did not find any drunk drivers can they conclude that drunk driving does not exist in Singapore?”
The NGOs also claimed that the police ignored complaints from migrant workers allegedly abused by repatriation companies. They said that the police conducted superficial investigations and ignored phone calls from workers abducted by repatriation companies, and that officers who do respond to such calls refuse to free workers confined by repatriation companies.
Mr Wham said, “[The police] probably feel that there is a need for repatriation companies to control wayward migrant workers in Singapore in case they become illegal or commit crimes. They see repatriation companies as playing a positive role.”
“I see it as a very straightforward issue with a very straightforward solution,” he continued. “Just listen to the workers and enforce the law.”
As of press time, police and MOM officials have not responded to queries.
Yesterday, the Singapore Police Force informed me that they are “unable to assist” me on this matter. There is still no reply from the Ministry of Manpower.