The poor foreign workers had taught Singaporeans a valuable lesson in democratic freedom. MOM did not have the means or the will or the competency to settle the problem. In desperation, MOM hid behind the protective time-tested technique of "bureaucratic procedure" excellently honed by the civil service of Singapore. The workers were far too sage to fall for the amateurish smokescreen.
A Tapestry Of Lies From The Ministry Of Manpower Singapore Review, 30 June 2004
The press release from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on the 22 June 2004 was swelling with positive optimism (see footnote 1) that the Ministry was easing towards a peaceful and acceptable resolution to the salary claims of 440 foreign workers owed in arrears by their employer, Wan Soon Construction Private Limited.
But what an immense difference a week makes.
Something apparently went abominably wrong in the course of 7 days which ultimately precipitated a mobilisation of over 200 discontented workers at the Indian embassy, inducing a nameless trepidation within the ranks of MOM. Suddenly, with one swift stroke, the layers of deception so meticulously erected were unceremoniously disrobed in "pompous" fashion.
Abruptly, the public learned that an important omission was perpetrated by MOM in the press release for reasons that are too sinister to ever be declassified. Nevertheless, the deceit distastefully manifested when it transpired that the 118 workers were dispatched home, nwillingly "persuaded" to accept a sordid compromise, practically under the "menace" of being potentially charged as unlawful "overstayed" immigrants (see footnote 2).
To further bemire the matter, MOM unscrupulously weaved a fable, projecting a façade of kindness in offering to render assistance to the "request" of the workers to be relocated to other employers (see footnote 3). Embarrassingly for MOM, the resolve of the workers elevated the truth to the foreground (see footnote 4), shattering the mask of falsehood in an emphatic manner.
The beautiful lie was completed when it transpired upon the public that MOM, in earnest, did not have the means or the will or the competency to settle the problem. In desperation, MOM hid behind the protective time-tested technique of "bureaucratic procedure" excellently honed by the civil service of singapore. The workers were far too sage to fall for the amateurish smokescreen (see footnote 5).
MOM had effortlessly exacerbated the international opinion of Singapore as a "revolting republic" where justice is not dispensed without the procedure of grand mobilisation and visible pressures generated from media publicity. This reality will forever be etched into the minds of thousands of low-skilled foreign labourers, investors, and travellers.
Volumes of agreements on trade and bi-lateral cooperation would not suffice to erase the stigma.
Singaporeans can only pray that this eroding faith of the foreign workers, and the world, in Singapore may not one day become retributive towards our fellow overseas nationals. After all, there is wisdom in the old adage "Do not do onto others what you do not want others to do onto you".
In the hurly burly, Singaporeans serendipitously witnessed a part of them which had long been consigned to the dustbin of history of humanitarianism in Singapore. It was a collective spirit of solidarity and brotherhood, and a culture of pro-activeness honed from a more permissive and comparatively liberal democratic institution. It was a spirit which can only exist in a society where men believe that the power of the people can surmount the resistance of the government they elected.
The institution had long been erased from the psyche of this once dynamic nation ever since the days when repressive laws were enacted to suppress "independent thoughts". And it was this righteous institution which tore gaping holes in the tapestries of lies painted by MOM.
These poor foreign labourers had taught Singaporeans a valuable lesson in democratic freedom.
(1) "The case is now in its final stage of settlement… To date, 118 workers have resolved their salary disputes amicably with their employer and returned to their home countries. Another 59 workers will be returning home at the end of this month upon the resolution of their disputes" – MOM press release 22 June 2004.
(2) "More than a quarter of them reached an agreement with the Manpower Ministry (MOM) last week and will leave the country soon. It is understood that they were offered a package because their work permits are expiring soon and they will have to leave the country" – The Straits Times 29 June 2004.
(3) "For the remaining 263 workers, MOM is currently assisting them with their claims as well as processing their requests to work for other employers in the same industry" – MOM press release 22 June 2004.
(4) "'We do not want 50 per cent or 60 per cent. We want full salary. We want full settlement and we want to go back to India. (Referring to the deal offered to the departed workers who accepted less than what they were owed)" – The Straits Times 29 June 2004.
(5) "The MOM officers then tried to calm the workers down by saying that they would arrange for ANOTHER meeting to settle their problems. Said Mr R. Doss, 25: 'We have been to MOM MANY TIMES and there was NO settlement." - The Straits Times 29 June 2004.
(6) "The Ministry treats complaints of salary arrears of foreign workers seriously" – MOM press release 22 June 2004.
Sources and Relevant Links:
Singapore Reveiw: A Tapestry Of Lies From The Ministry Of Manpower 30 June 2004
Singapore Reveiw: Treat Foreign Low Skilled Workers With Respect 8 July 2004
Think Centre: Indian Migrant Workers: Going hungry in a land of plenty 6 July 2004
Young PAP website: 400++ foreign workers illegal gather 29 June 2004
Think Centre: Singapore: 200 Indian Workers protest at Indian Embassy 29 June 2004
Jakarta Post Indonesian maids in S'pore prone to human rights violations 28 June 2004