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Singapore - Association of Employment Agencies defamation case

31 December 2012

THE High Court has dismissed a defamation suit by the current office-holders of the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), or AEAS, against their predecessors according to the Straits Times. Another hearing will be held next year to decide if the losing side will have to bear the legal costs of the winning camp. The AEAS is the only association for employment agencies in Singapore.

The judgment by Justice Lee Seiu Kin last Friday ends the three-year-long case which has left both camps saddled with a few hundred thousand dollars in legal fees (1 Singapore dollar equals €0.62 or $0.82).

One camp includes current association president K. Jayaprema, four employment agency owners, who are also current management committee members, and the association's honorary auditor Khadijah Khathar Sahib; the other includes previous president Shirley Ng and seven other employment agency owners who were also former management committee members of AEAS.

According to the newspaper the saga started in 2009 when Ms Jayaprema lost the post of president to Ms Ng by one vote in the elections for office-bearers. Ms Jayaprema owns an agency that recruits mostly Indian and Bangladeshi male workers. Ms Ng owns a maid agency. After losing the election Ms Jayaprema and her supporters entered the association's office near Tiong Bahru to view the election meeting file. The association's current honorary auditor, Ms Khadijah, who was then an ordinary association member and had accompanied Ms Jayaprema, also signed on each page of the file to show that she had verified them.

Ms Ng and her management committee members responded by sending letters written by their lawyer to Ms Jayaprema and those in her camp, warning them to stop "all wrongful actions against the association" or action would be taken against them. Copies of the letters were also sent to the Manpower Ministry and Registrar of Societies. Ms Ng also lodged police reports saying that there had been trespassers in the association's office and documents had been tampered with. Ms Ng and her committee members also informed members of the association in a meeting about what Ms Jayaprema and her supporters did.

Ms Jayaprema's camp sued Ms Ng and her committee members for defamation. They said that Ms Ng and the others had damaged their reputation during the meeting attended by members and by sending out the letters. Initially, Ms Jayaprema's camp also sued the association for defamation. But the case against the association was dropped earlier this year, and Ms Jayaprema's camp sued Ms Ng's camp as individuals.

Again according to the Straits Times it is understood that the previous president Ms Ng spent close to 200,000 Singapore dollars ($163,000) in AEAS funds to engage a lawyer to defend the association, a move which has caused some unhappiness among members.

Last year, Ms Jayaprema was elected president of the association and took over from Ms Ng. The paper belives that both sides initiated unsucsessful  attempts, over the years, to reach an an out-of-court settlement.Ms Ng told The Straits Times that she was relieved that the long-drawn case has ended."It is indeed sad that much of our time and energy was wasted on this case during our term, at the expense of members and the industry," she added. The legal fees will be paid by parties as individuals. Ms Jayaprema declined to say if she will appeal against the judgment.

The association currently has about 400 members, mostly maid agents. The president of the association is often tapped by the Government for feedback on policy changes.

This news comes at the same time as the Straits Times reports that despite offering higher wages to lure Singaporeans to work as sales staff, the industry is still facing a manpower squeeze that has been especially painful over the festive shopping period.

The industry is highly dependent on foreigners. About half of all front-line retail employees here are foreigners, said Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at human resources consultancy the GMP Group.

In July,  this year, the Government tightened foreign labour quotas in several industries, including the service sector. Firms are now allowed to have foreign workers fill up only 45 per cent of positions, down from 50 per cent previously. To read the full story, follow this link.

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