fbpx

TODAY letter… published with a new paragraph sender did not write

The following was first published as a Facebook note on Stephanie Chok's page. TOC thanks her for allowing us to reproduce it here.

Stephanie Chok /

TODAY just published a letter I sent in ("Punish criminal acts but deter errant bosses, too", TODAY, Voices, Jul 29, 2011) [see below]. (By the way, that is THEIR headline, not mine, which was 'A Balanced Approach to Deterrence')

I sent this letter in because their article, "5 weeks in jail for criminal trespass" (TODAY, Jul 22, 2011), was inaccurate. [See below]

In the article, the court reporter indicated that Yang Wei, a construction worker who had unpaid salary claims, "could have lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower", but instead "took matters into his own hands, entering a construction site at Changi South Ave 2 and climbed up the crane". For this, Yang Wei was slapped with a 5 week jail sentence for criminal trespass.

Yang Wei DID in fact lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower. I was at the first court hearing on 14 July 2011 and this is something I verified with H.O.M.E. (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics), which is assisting Yang Wei with his case. However, Yang Wei returned from the mediation at the MOM frustrated and told H.O.M.E. staff that his employer refused to pay him the full amount he is entitled to under the Employment Act and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. On top of that, the employer wanted to make further deductions, without evidence this was legitimate.

However, the article that was published made it appear that Yang Wei chose to engage in a wilful (and, in Singapore, a criminal) act without first even attempting to do things the 'legal' way.

So I decided to write a letter to TODAY to alert them to the inaccuracy. It was published today, but TODAY inserted an entire paragraph that I DID NOT WRITE, and which completely changed its meaning.

In my letter, I had written:

Yang Wei has and will continue to serve time in jail and it is clear the law has taken its course. However, misleading representations only serve to further criminalize a worker who resorted to an act of desperation after having been denied his rightful salary payments. It is also important to point out that the employer had committed an offence by violating labour laws yet refused to pay the correct settlement amount during mediations at the Ministry of Manpower.

TODAY took the liberty of changing it [the section in BOLD] to:

It is important to note that his employer later paid him S$5,000, a settlement amount that is now with the authorities, and which will be returned to him after his release.

While there were other edits of my letter, this one I find unacceptable. My letter made NO mention of a $5000 payment. Plus, what I had intended to point out is that though Yang Wei was charged for a criminal act, his employer does not seem to have been charged for violating labour laws and remaining unrepentant during MOM mediations.

This $5000 'settlement' was only derived AFTER Yang Wei had climbed on the crane and the employer agreed to pay him in order to get Yang Wei to come down. It was NOT paid during official mediations by the MOM.

Moreover, a staff member from TODAY actually rang me a few nights ago (at 10.30pm) to 'verify' that what I wrote in my letter was true - that Yang Wei had, in fact, lodged a complaint at the MOM. Kind of ironic that I receive a call from them to verify the facts - only to have them insert things into my letter I did not write?

If TODAY sees a need to make a statement on behalf of the employer, they can easily do that in a footnote. It is another thing altogether to insert a new made-up paragraph I did not write, imbued with meaning that I did not intend, with facts that I did not include and am not able to personally verify, into a letter with my name on it.

-----

The TODAY article which was inaccurate:

5 weeks in jail for criminal trespass

by Shaffiq Alkhatib

TODAY, Jul 22, 2011

SINGAPORE - A construction worker embroiled in a pay dispute was jailed five weeks yesterday for criminal trespass after climbing to a crane tower control cage 30m above ground to air his grievances.

Yang Wei, 27, could have lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower after he had claimed his employer had not paid him his salary of S$5,000.

But on July 4, the Chinese national took matters into his own hands, entering a construction site at Changi South Ave 2 and climbed up the crane.

He had refused to come down, even after a safety coordinator at the site, Mr Tang Yee Chiang, 34, climbed up to him and tried to convince him to come down from the crane.

Yang told him that Zhong Jiang International owed him money and had also shortchanged him on his salary and medical claims.

He was placated only after the company handed the money to him.

Yang was represented by lawyers Sheela Kumari Devi and Gregory Vijayendran who did not charge him for their services.

Mr Vijayendran told District Judge Low Wee Ping that their client committed the offence due to overwhelming emotional stress.

The lawyer said Yang was the sole breadwinner of his family and had a sick mother who was semi-paralysed.

The S$5,000 is now with the authorities and will be returned to Yang after his release, said Mr Vijayendran, who asked for a light custodial sentence.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Lim however had pressed for a deterrent one of at least eight weeks' jail, to send out a strong message to other workers that they should not resort to similar tactics to resolve disputes.

-----

Here is the original letter I sent to TODAY:

A Balanced Approach in Deterrence

I refer to the report, ‘5 weeks in jail for criminal trespass’ (TODAY, Jul 22, 2011).

The report claims Yang Wei, who was charged with criminal trespass, could have lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for his unpaid wages but instead ‘took matters into his own hands’ by climbing up a crane at a worksite.

Yang Wei had, in fact, lodged his complaints with the Ministry of Manpower over unpaid salary, medical leave wages and medical expenses. These are a worker’s rightful entitlements under the Employment Act and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

However, during the mediation at the MOM, the employer refused to pay Yang Wei what he was rightfully due. On top of that, the employer insisted on making a further deduction, without sufficient evidence this was legitimate.

Unfortunately, these are not exceptional cases. As a volunteer with H.O.M.E., a local migrant worker organization, I have met, over the years, many construction workers who have been denied salaries and other entitlements and go through frustrating delays during the settlement process that cause further financial hardship. Such workers are also frequently subjected to oppressive managerial control and unreasonable employer behaviour, including being bound to contracts with illegal terms and/or threats and intimidation. Workers who face additional burdens such as critical family illnesses and marital strife exacerbated by their inability to send money home are subjected to high levels of emotional stress.

Yang Wei has and will continue to serve time in jail and it is clear the law has taken its course. However, misleading representations only serve to further criminalize a worker who resorted to an act of desperation after having been denied his rightful salary payments. It is also important to point out that the employer had committed an offence by violating labour laws yet refused to pay the correct settlement amount during mediations at the Ministry of Manpower.

A more balanced approach in deterrence should include harsher measures meted out to recalcitrant employers who remain non-compliant despite official intervention. Workers lodge complaints at the MOM with much hope that the authorities will assist in resolving their disputes fairly. Greater pressure should be placed on employers who refuse to pay workers as opposed to unpaid workers feeling they need to compromise by accepting whatever they are given, despite the shortfall.

Ms Stephanie Chok

-----

Here is the letter published by TODAY:

Punish criminal acts but deter errant bosses, too

Letter from Stephanie Chok

04:45 AM Jul 29, 2011

I refer to the report "5 weeks in jail for criminal trespass" (July 22).

It claimed that Yang Wei could have lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for his unpaid wages but instead "took matters into his own hands" by climbing up a crane at a worksite.

In fact, he had previously gone to the MOM over unpaid salary, medical leave wages and medical expenses - a worker's entitlements under the law.

However, he claimed to us at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics that, during the mediation, the employer allegedly refused to pay up and insisted on making a further deduction.

These are not exceptional cases. As a volunteer with the migrant worker group, I have met, over the years, construction workers who have been denied salaries and other entitlements and who endure frustrating delays during the settlement process that cause further hardship.

Such workers are frequently subjected to oppressive managerial control and unreasonable employer behaviour, including being bound to contracts with illegal terms and/or threats.

Workers who face additional burdens such as critical family illnesses and marital strife, exacerbated by their inability to send money home, go through high levels of emotional stress.

In Yang Wei's case, the law has taken its course and he has been sentenced. However, misleading representations further criminalise a worker whose act of desperation came after he was denied his salary payments.

It is important to note that his employer later paid him S$5,000, a settlement amount that is now with the authorities, and which will be returned to him after his release.

A more balanced approach in deterrence should include harsher measures meted out to recalcitrant employers who remain non-compliant despite official intervention.

Workers lodge complaints at the MOM with much hope that it will assist in resolving their disputes. Greater pressure should be placed on employers who refuse to pay workers as opposed to unpaid workers feeling they need to compromise by accepting whatever they are given, despite the shortfall.