JOHOR BARU: While most Malaysians regard Singapore as a land of opportunity, landing a job in the island republic has turned into a nightmare for some.
These workers, all unskilled or semi-skilled, are the victims of unscrupulous recruitment agents who lure them with promises of good pay without giving them a true picture of their terms of employment.
And despite facing terrible work conditions, they are unable to return home as the agents have held on to their passports as collateral until their “bonds” of between S$1,600 (RM3,558) and S$3,260 (RM7,251) are paid up.
Many of these workers have been forced to run away and seek help from the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore while staying at the Tanjung Pagar railway station or even taking refuge in mosques.
The more desperate ones have even tried swimming across the Straits of Johor to get back to Malaysia or sneaking into the agents' offices to recover their passports.
In fact, the situation has reached such an alarming stage that the High Commission is handling such cases on a daily basis, especially during the present festive period.
It had even felt compelled to conduct a study, which started in January, involving 184 cases
Among other things, the study revealed that most of those exploited were from Johor, Sarawak and Sabah, and they had been the target of both verbal and physical abuse.
Labour Department director-general Datuk Ismail Abdul Rahim has gone as far as to liken some of the cases to slavery.
“We are shocked that despite so much publicity in the newspapers, Malaysians continue to fall victim to such scams,” he added.
He said the department was aware of cases where the agents were willing to betray their own friends for hefty commissions.
“The scams are becoming more sophisticated. Now they target people from the villages, using their friends to talk them into going to Singapore.”
While acknowledging that the department, through its enforcement division, could take bogus agencies to court, he said none had been prosecuted so far due to lack of evidence.
High Commissioner Datuk N. Parameswaran said most of the victims were labourers, cleaners and gardeners.
“My staff have been using their own money to help these people return home as many of them do not even have the RM50 – the equivalent of S$22 – needed to get an emergency certificate from us to exit Singapore,” he said.
He blamed the scams on unscrupulous or illegal recruitment agents operating both in Malaysia and Singapore.
The embassy has sent out the findings of its study to at least 13 relevant government agencies in the two countries, alerting them to the growing problem.
Johor police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Hussin Ismail hoped that Malaysians who had been duped would lodge reports to enable the police to work with their counterparts in Singapore to nab the agents.
22 Oct 2006
By NELSON BENJAMIN