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SINGAPORE - In the nightclub industry, it's an open secret that some foreign entertainers are hired not so much for their singing talent but more for their willingness to entertain men in other ways.
These so-called singers, especially in the seedier joints, are expected to get friendly with customers to entice them to buy flower garlands and drinks.
Some provide "extra services" by leaving with customers after their shift.
Filipino singer Diane (not her real name) is different from these women - she performs at a pub which doesn't allow such hanky-panky.
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But she also has something in common with them - she moonlights as a prostitute in her spare time. When The New Paper met Diane at Orchard Road recently, it was her night off from singing.
She said she has a work permit which allows her to be employed here as a singer.
Without revealing details, she said she sings "a few times a week in a non-hanky-panky club somewhere in town" where she earns "good money".
But that isn't enough for her.
"I'm a high maintenance girl. I guess I like shopping too much," said the curvy woman in her 30s, adding that during the day, when she isn't working, she usually goes shopping with her friends.
But Diane's carefree facade crumbled when asked about her background.
Giving a wan smile, she said: "I've got two beautiful kids, a boy and a girl, to take care of back home in the Philippines.
"My parents are taking care of them when I'm here. They have no idea of what else I do here besides singing. Of course, singing comes first and I'm a 'working girl' only when I'm free."
The divorcee declined to reveal more details about her family.
Diane said she first came to Singapore in 2000 after she found out from a friend that she could "make money" here.
While here on a social visit pass, she worked as a freelance prostitute on Orchard Road, and after that, came back at least once a year to be a sex worker.
She declined to say when she was eventually employed as a pub singer and exactly how much she earns, but said: "I still have a few regular customers and can earn a few hundred dollars from each one."
Diane said her employer, the pub owner, doesn't know that she occasionally provides sexual services on her own time.
"My boss will be upset, I think, if he finds out," she said when asked about her double life. She explained that was why she was reluctant to say more about her singing job and moonlighting as a prostitute.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Manpower announced that from October, nightclub operators will be allowed to hire not more than eight foreign entertainers, down from the current 15.
This is to encourage operators to employ more local performers and to reduce reliance on foreign workers.
Mr Dennis Foo, the chief executive of St James Holdings, told The Straits Times that the tightened regulations are a step in the right direction.
Said Mr Foo: "There are no minimum wage or qualifications for those applying for the performing artiste work permit.
"This system has somehow been exploited by unscrupulous operators who bring in people on these passes, but they are actually doing something else."
But karaoke lounge operator Alice Phua, 56, lamented that cutting the quota from 15 to eight is "like a 45 per cent cut in earnings".
She told The Straits Times: "If I have fewer singers, how can they sing the whole night? Singaporean girls won't want to work in this line."
When told of the new ruling, Diane gave a sigh and said: "This isn't good. I like coming to Singapore to work because the dollar here is so strong.
"My future will be quite uncertain. Maybe I should think of other options. I guess I can always fall back on freelancing at Orchard Road (by coming back on a social visit pass)."
The police have been cracking down on entertainment outlets and arresting foreign women for employment and immigration offences. (See report on right.)
Non-government organisations, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), told TNP that not all of these foreign women arrested were victims of trafficking.
Some had knowingly come to Singapore as performing artistes so that they could moonlight as sex workers.
Both organisations see a few cases of these women approaching them for help.
Home sees up to 10 such cases a year, and they are usually seeking help over a wage dispute, said its executive director Jolovan Wham.
Said TWC2's treasurer Alex Au: "It does strike me that these women aren't fully informed about their job scope, and the option to exercise their human rights is highly restricted."
He said there was a "power imbalance and information asymmetry" between the recruiter or employer and the worker, adding that this is sometimes not taken into account when the dispute is presented before the authorities.