On 6 April 2017, Justice Without Borders (JWB) launched its strategic legal research paper titled “Protecting Low-Wage Foreign Workers in Singapore from Bait-And-Switch Contracts” with a roundtable discussion attended by lawyers and caseworkers, followed by a launch party. Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) sponsored and hosted the event as a firm supporter of JWB, with HSF’s Managing Partner Alastair Henderson addressing participants.
The roundtable discussion kicked off with a welcome from JWB’s Executive Director, Douglas MacLean, followed by an introduction of the problem of bait-and-switch contracts in Singapore by Pro Bono Officer Rachel Hines. As she explained, many low-wage foreign workers take up employment in Singapore with the expectation of a certain salary, only to be paid a much lower amount after arrival. Burdened with debt and without any viable alternative employment, these workers often feel they have no choice but to accept the lower salary.
Sandra Tsao from ProLegis LLC and Tess Lumsdaine from HSF introduced the potential legal remedies addressed in the paper, which included establishing challenges to lower-wage contracts based on a lack of consideration, duress, and/or unconscionability, and using the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act Regulations and the In Principle Approval document to establish the home-country, higher-wage contract.
A robust discussion among the lawyers and caseworkers concluded with the recognition of the need to set precedents in the higher courts for the benefit of migrant workers. Rachel Hines encouraged lawyers to become involved with migrant worker cases and work with their NGO partners to identify viable cases. She also encouraged NGOs to identify contract substitution cases among their clients and consult with lawyers to identify viable cases.
In a closing toast to celebrate the paper’s publication, Douglas reiterated JWB’s goal to work with NGOs fighting contract substitutions. He thanked those involved in writing and editing the paper, including Fatim Jumabhoy, Sandra Tsao, Rachel Hines, Paras Lalwani, and Daniel Mah as well as the many JWB legal fellows who were instrumental in getting the paper to publication. He also thanked HealthServe and HOME for their assistance on the project, and HSF for its sponsorship and support.