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(Photo from Straits Times, Olivia Ho)

ST stirs a storm in a teacup over poster barring contractors from use of toliets at shopping mall

Straits Times reported on Saturday about how Wisma Atria placed signs outside the men's toilets on five floors of the shopping mall, telling "construction workers" to use only the toilet in the carpark on the fifth level, behind the cargo lift.

The signs, printed on paper in English and Chinese, warn that those who flout the rule will be fined and "immediately banned" from working in the mall.

It said that this was highlighted to the newspaper via a full-time volunteer Hoh Jian Yang, 26 after spotting the signs while shopping at the mall last Sunday. The full-time volunteer told ST that he felt the signs were discriminatory.

Mr Hoh reportedly said: "Denying certain classes of people access to public amenities encourages the view that they are, in some way, lesser human beings. ST went on to quote him saying, "That these amenities were almost certainly constructed by workers themselves adds a new layer of perverse irony."

A spokesman for YTL Starhill Global Reit, which manages Wisma, was quoted by ST defending the signs, "The restriction was to ensure that shoppers enjoy a conducive shopping environment within the mall." The spokesman said the restriction arose because shoppers complained about the workers showering in the toilets or washing their tools in the sinks and added that the restrictions have been in place since Wisma's last major renovation in 2011.

A construction worker was quoted by ST to say that he was briefed at the safety briefing every morning not to use the toliets downstairs. He added that the public does not like that their shoes are dirty

Mr Hoh was quoted by ST to have said, "They could just have easily have put up signs cautioning workers against showering or washing tools and told them to do it at the fifth floor toilet.", he also said "Instead they decided that a policy of segregation was better. I feel it's a disproportionate response."

Some netizens have been angered by the idea that construction workers are looked down upon and that the shopping mall is practising discriminatory practices. One fanpage even went as far as to call for a boycott of Wisma Atria.

But before we continue with the story, it has to be highlighted that contractors, not "construction workers" were told to use only the toliet at the carpark on the fifth level.

Below is a zoomed image for those readers who only read the headlines by ST and not the sign itself. It writes, "Contractors can only use toliet at carpark level 5!!!

contractors_blowup

I must say how I totally agree with Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo with how he say that it was the mall owner's prerogative not to have workers using the same toilets as customers. At the same time, I also disagree with Mr Hoh's point about segregation.

I was an engineer for an engineering company before working at TOC and I too am to follow the instructions as a contractor. Not because of my nationality, my race, my skin color but because of the terms and condition as stated in my engagement with the company. The standard terms do not simply just cover the toilets but also the use of lifts, can you imagine the contractors using the same public lift in the shopping mall with their equipment and tools?

And even if the sign targetted at only construction workers, any construction worker could blatantly disregard the notice if they are not working in the mall as there is no repercussion for the individual.

If netizens are concerned about the construction workers, then what about the elderly cleaning aunties or uncles who have to clean after the workers when they soil the floor with their dirty safety boots?

Would ST write another article from a social worker who feels that the workers are causing unnecessary work for the elderly who now have to clean after the workers? All because the shopping mall has to please the angered public by backtracking its policy with contractors and allowing their workers to use the public toilets.

If ST really wants to highlight the issue of construction workers, do it by highlighting how local and foreign bosses exploit foreign construction workers through hidden loans, low wage and forced repatriation when sick or owed wages. They could even cover the nonchalant behaviour of the Ministry of Manpower and the GONGO in light of such activities but not by stirring a storm in a teacup in this case of non-issue.