Maid agency fined $40,000 for operating after licence expired
A maid agency that had tried unsuccessfully to renew its licence was fined $40,000 on Tuesday (May 10) for continuing to operate for around three months without it.
Between May and August 2020, Happy Maids Happy Homes, which is located at Far East Shopping Centre, made 17 work permit applications for foreigners, and collected between $14,000 and $27,000 in agency fees from the workers.
Appearing on behalf of the firm, director Martin Silva was in court on Tuesday as the company was convicted of one count of doing the business of an employment agency without a licence. Another three charges were taken into consideration during sentencing.
The court heard that the firm was probed in August 2020 by Ministry of Manpower (MOM) inspectors, who found it had continued to work as an employment agency even after its licence had expired on May 18 that year.
Happy Maids Happy Homes continued to collect between $788 and $1,500 in agency fees for each application.
As it was unable to submit work pass applications to MOM, the firm approached two employment agencies, Servq Placement & Management and Apple Maid Agency, to help file the paperwork.
MOM prosecutors said a licence is required for any firm to carry out work in connection with the employment of job seekers or the placing of a person in a job.
The agency tried to renew its licence in April, but was told on May 8 by MOM it had been rejected because of the company's adverse past records, which were not detailed in court documents.
On May 25, the company appealed to MOM for its licence to be renewed, but was informed in November that the appeal was unsuccessful.
Seeking a fine of $45,000 for the firm, MOM prosecuting officer Joel Lim said these were not the company's first offences and it had been fined $3,000 in 2014 for overcharging agency fees.
He argued that the company continued to operate despite knowing that it did not have a valid licence and that the law must be upheld to protect workers from unlicensed employment agencies.
He noted, however, that the harm caused by the offence was low as the maids had been assigned to employers.
Defence lawyer N.K. Anitha, who sought a fine of $20,000, said the agency continued to operate as it had expected its appeal to be successful.
She said the company had suffered severe losses as a result of the cessation of its licence and all of its employees have lost their jobs. The firm has lost more than $85,000 in order to discharge its ongoing contractual obligations.
"These events were happening during the Covid-19 outbreak. At that time, employers and foreign domestic workers alike were pushing the company to complete their ongoing transactions," said Ms Anitha.
"In those circumstances, the company was forced to do its best to fulfil its obligations to its clients."
The maximum fine for running an employment agency without a licence is $80,000.