On 24 August 2022, Justice Without Borders (JWB) hosted its first CPD workshop for Singapore-based lawyers in the two years since the outbreak of Covid-19. JWB, together with Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and Prolegis LLC, launched its strategic legal research paper, Migrant Domestic Workers & Illegal Deployment in Singapore, at the event.
This launch was the culmination of a year-long legal research project with Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and Prolegis LLC on the topic of illegal deployment. Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and Prolegis LLC sponsored and hosted the event as a firm and long-time supporter of JWB, with Prolegis LLC’s Director, Sandra Tsao, welcoming participants to the event. The event saw a total of 35 attendees which included Singapore-qualified lawyers (including a Senior Counsel), foreign lawyers, caseworkers and representatives from non-profit organisations in Singapore as well as ad-hoc pro bono volunteers.
The roundtable discussion kicked off with a general introduction by JWB’s Executive Director, Doug MacLean, on JWB and the significance of illegal deployment on JWB’s work. This was followed by an introduction by JWB’s Legal Officer, Ijechi Nazirah, to the pervasiveness of illegal deployment of foreign workers in Singapore. As she explained, it is not uncommon for foreign domestic workers to be deployed to work outside of the residential address indicated on their work permits, in contravention of MOM regulations. Some workers are made to work in the households of other family members while others are made to work at their employer’s place of business. These workers do such additional work without additional compensation, and are often unaware of the illegality of their additional deployment. Of those who are aware, most if not all are burdened with the ever-existing threat of repatriation, and thus have no choice but to follow their employer’s instructions and agree to the additional work. Upon their return home, such workers are often left with little to no legal recourse.
JWB’s research paper discusses the potential legal avenues in Singapore that are available to workers who have returned home. Mark Teo and Joshua Chia from Herbert Smith Freehills LLP delved more deeply into the potential legal issues and remedies addressed in the paper, which included exploring whether a claim in contract or a restitutionary claim in unjust enrichment may be available to such workers under certain circumstances. A robust discussion among the lawyers and caseworkers present followed, led and facilitated by Mitchell Dearness from Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.
The discussion concluded with the recognition of the need to set precedents in the higher courts on many of the legal strategies set forth in the paper. Noting that this was one of the rare occasions in which lawyers and non-profit representatives were all gathered in one room, JWB also encouraged attending lawyers to become involved with migrant worker cases and to work with non-profit organisations to identify viable cases. Similarly, the attending non-profit organisations were also encouraged to flag out illegal deployment cases and consult with interested pro bono lawyers to identify viable test cases.
The participants then proceeded to enjoy coffee and refreshments, courtesy of Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. In his closing remarks, Doug reiterated JWB’s goal to work with Singapore non-profit organizations in fighting illegal deployment of foreign domestic workers. He thanks those involved in writing and/or editing the paper and/or in organising the launch event, including Rachita Bhagnani of Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, as well as the many JWB Legal Fellows and volunteers who were instrumental in getting the paper to publication. He also thanked Prolegis LLC for their assistance on the project, and both firms for their generous sponsorship and continued support.