Practitioner’s Manual update (SG)

March 26, 2019
Category: Our work | Strategic research

After five years and over 700 cases screened, Justice Without Borders (JWB) has dramatically revamped its flagship Singapore Practitioner’s Manual on migrant worker civil litigation. The guide has helped both lawyers and frontline caseworkers identify the key civil claims that domestic workers might make against errant employers or employment agencies.

The more streamlined guide is laser focused on domestic worker claims, as JWB’s clients mainly come from Indonesia and the Philippines. Some fundamental sections also apply to migrant workers more generally.

“Our new version really focuses on helping frontline partners support their domestic worker clients, especially after they go home,” said Shalini Jayaraj, Head of Office for Singapore.

“With the latest legal developments and streamlined, accessible language, we see the guide serving as a critical resource for lawyers and paralegals here in Singapore and in clients’ home countries,” she added.

The guide helps lawyers and caseworkers get up to speed on cross-border litigation, a common commercial practice but still very new in the migrant worker context. The Manual is part of JWB’s efforts to develop a critical mass of frontline experts along its key migration routes with the foundational knowledge needed to bring valid claims in Singapore courts, regardless of where the client happens to live.

The manual provides an in-depth guide on employment, contract, tort and other relevant areas of law that address the most common issues a domestic worker may face. For frontline service providers, the Manual supports their efforts to identify potentially valid claims during their intake process, while evidence and the clients’ memories are still readily available. Sections on civil procedure in a cross-border context are also included.

With a shift specifically towards domestic workers, the manual is now titled: “Pursuing Civil Claims for Foreign Domestic Workers in Singapore and from Abroad: A Practitioner’s Manual”.

Important updates include:

  1. Agency fee overcharges—addressing how to recover excess agency fees charged to the worker, usually in cases where the Singapore agency has no written contract with the worker.
  2. Illegal deployment—Some errant employers order their domestic worker to work offsite, either in another person’s house or at an employer’s business. Both of these can violate immigration law, putting workers in danger of deportation while often amounting to additional unpaid work. This section discusses initial strategies lawyers might take to claim compensation for workers who were ordered to work outside the home.
  3. Domestic worker-specific employment issues—including unfair dismissal and oppressive working conditions, illegal deployment and overcharging of agency fees.
  4. Expanded tort (injuries) section—Now includes torts of defamation and malicious falsehood, particularly in cases where employers retaliate against workers for  complaining to authorities. The new section also explores possible claims in Harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA”).

We are grateful to our law firm partners, volunteer lawyers, frontline partners and Legal Fellows for their research and review of this Manual. In particular, we would like to thank Simmons & Simmons and their lawyers Amanda LEES and Robert GRANT, Tan Kok Quan Partnership and their lawyers Jonathan MUK, Rachel CHIN, and Alcina CHEW, Herbert Smith Freehills and Prolegis LLC.

We would also like to thank LOONG Tse Chuan, Mark LEE, Muslim ALBAKRI, NG Bin Hong, Sze Hao QUEK, Vineetha GUNASEKARAN and Wesley CHAN.

We are also grateful to frontline partners the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) and Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME). Finally, we thank and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law and Singapore Management University (SMU) and their law students for their contributions as Legal Fellows.