Friday, July 20, 2012

TODAYonline | Singapore | HOME comments on Govt response to US human trafficking report

Source: TODAYonline

Saturday, July 21, 2012

SINGAPORE - The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) has issued a statement on the United States' latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, as well as the Singapore Government's response to the report. 

It said it considered Singapore's Tier 2 ranking - given to countries that do not comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so - to be an "appropriate assessment". 

The ranking recognised the efforts of the Government and the Inter-agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons (the Taskforce) in the past year - such as the launch of the National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons - but also reflected the lack of adequate legislation in Singapore to address trafficking, HOME said. 

HOME also addressed the rebuttals by the Singapore Government to the TIP report. Responding to the TIP report stating that employers' ability to repatriate workers any time during during their contracts has fuelled workers' fears of being deported, the Taskforce had said that employers are required to give notice of termination in line with the provisions in the employment contract, or in line with the notice requirements under the Employment Act

HOME pointed out that the notice periods in the Employment Act are "grossly insufficient" - one day's notice or one day's salary in lieu of notice for workers employed for less than 26 weeks - and employers can also cancel work permits without informing the worker in advance.

On the Government saying that only the Manpower Ministry can impose employment bars - the TIP report had stated that employers can submit complaints to have such bars imposed - HOME noted that employers may have considerable influence on MOM. 

"Employers may lodge police reports and submit negative feedback about workers and MOM may blacklist them based on such feedback," HOME said. "Many employers also use the threat of 'blacklisting' to discourage workers from lodging complaints."

While the Taskforce has said that there are stringent penalties imposed on convicted traffickers, HOME noted that there are key aspects of the international definition trafficking set out in the United Nations' Palermo Protocol not found in Singapore's laws, and this means that many cases - especially labour trafficking cases - remain undetected and unprosecuted.

"Worse still, there are cases in which trafficked persons themselves have been criminalised, especially when they are undocumented and are treated as immigration offenders whilst their traffickers remain at large," HOME said. 

The Taskforce should identify gaps in current laws and put in place a comprehensive legislative response to combat trafficking in Singapore, it added.

HOME noted that repatriation companies have still not been outlawed in Singapore, even though their activities, which involve the confinement of migrant workers, are illegal. 

"Conducting just one operation to inspect what is an undesirable and illegal operation is insufficient as a response. Further, almost all of the 2,000 workers that HOME sees every year have had their work permit cards and passports held by their employers," HOME said. "This common practice of employers confiscating passports and work permit cards must be urgently addressed by MOM." 

Elsewhere, the organisation suggested that a comprehensive victim assistance programme be made available to suspected trafficking victims to pursue cases against their traffickers, and the availability of such programmes should not be conditional upon the participation of a trafficked individual in a prosecution case.

As for assistance for victims, HOME said it is concerned that the Government has insufficient space to house female migrant workers who have been subjected to exploitation and trafficking.

"HOME strongly believes that a far more comprehensive response is required of the Taskforce. Specialised victim assistance services are required, including shelters specifically intended for victims of trafficking," the organisation said.
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