World Day against Trafficking in Persons: Stop Trafficking in Singapore

30 July 2019

Kaia* worked for her employers in Singapore for about 10 years. During this time, she rarely took a day off. About 5 years into her employment, Kaia stopped receiving her regular salary. Although she received a one-off payment during this time, a large part of her salary remained unpaid at the time when she was referred to HOME. Kaia also did not sign contracts upon each renewal of her work permit. 

Together with MOM's assistance, Kaia has since been compensated her full salary. She was also reimbursed for medical expenses for which she paid. In total, she was paid $14,800, based on her agreed salary of $320 per month. She has now returned home, reuniting with her family and bringing back her hard-earned money. Kaia case is not unique and based on HOME’s experience it is common and unlike Kaia they may not have the compensation they rightly deserve or a sense of justice.

This year alone, we have identified more than 30 cases that had medium-high indicators of forced labour. Usually in the sense of deception about the nature and coercive conditions of work, including deceptive recruitment practices. 

The US State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons report in June 2019, Singapore has remained at a Tier 2 ranking as last year. [1] The government has taken significant efforts to tackle the problem but it does not fully meet international standards. 

The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA) is ambiguous in its definition of the terms ‘exploitation’, ‘abuse of vulnerability’, ‘coercion’ and ‘deception’. There has not been any labour trafficking prosecution under the PHTA, and instead, it has been prosecuted under EFMA for failure to pay, kickbacks, and illegal deployment. The penalties under EFMA are much less stringent compared to the PHTA. 

Trafficking is relatively an invisible issue in Singapore, and HOME is hoping to continuously shine on a spotlight on issues such as trafficking and forced labour. On this World Day against Trafficking of Persons, 30 July 2019, HOME would like to reaffirm our commitment to ending trafficking and its dedicating time for research and reaching out to the migrant worker community. 

* A pseudonym has been used to protect the worker's identity. 

[1] US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2019, June 2019, (accessed July 29, 2019).

Stephanie Chok