A Tapestry Of Lies From The Ministry Of Manpower
- From: (Mr) Law Sin Ling
30 June 2004
What a vast difference a week makes.
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, unwillingly "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
These poor foreign labourers had taught Singaporeans a valuable
lesson in democratic freedom.
(Mr) Law Sin Ling
(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
(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.