Pushed Beyond The Contract: Publication and CPD (SG)

March 26, 2019
Category: Our work | Strategic research

Our new strategic work aims to tackle a not uncommon practice among errant employers that violates the law while exploiting their employees.

Like many other foreign workers in Singapore, foreign domestic workers are allowed to work for only one employer. Their worksite is the employer’s home, with trips out of the house to pick up children, do the grocery shopping or accompany a live-in grandparent to the hospital allowed as well.

Unfortunately, some employers order their employees to perform additional work that violates their work permit. Whether it is working at the employer’s business or cleaning their relative’s house, these activities can land the employer in hot water, and put the employee in danger of losing their permit. The Ministry of Manpower has laid out clear guidelines on what is allowed and what is not.

To make matters worse, employees may be forced to perform this extra work for free. Many fear speaking up as it might jeopardize their ability to stay or to come back to Singapore in the future. Errant employers can thus exploit their employees for free work with little fear of being caught.

New legal strategies to hold errant employers accountable
Looking to tackle the economic ends of this illegal activity, Justice Without Borders (JWB) partnered with Tan Kok Quan Partnership to develop training materials on initial legal strategies that lawyers can advance to hold errant employers financially accountable for making their employees work for free while threatening their visa status.

“Pushed Beyond the Contract: Civil Claims for Foreign Domestic Workers Compelled to Work Outside the Home” examines the current state of the law in Singapore, and draws initial steps towards legal arguments that might help build this still untested area of the law.

The publication focuses on common scenarios arising in Singapore for migrant domestic workers compelled to work outside the home illegally, discussing several potential claims in contract and/or restitution that may be possible.

This research is part of JWB’s mission to build a body of knowledge to enable workers to receive rightful compensation for work done, regardless of whether their cases involve cross-border elements.

The work has already been put into the field, via an SILE accredited CPD workshop in November 2018. 32 lawyers and caseworkers attended the training. Additional trainings with lawyers and frontline caseworkers are forthcoming.  

We are grateful to lawyers from Tan Kok Quan Partnership for researching and reviewing the publication, and we thank Herbert Smith Freehills for their assistance and sponsorship in launching this work. We also thank our Legal Fellows for their invaluable contributions to this research.