"Stupid!", "Pig", "Dog": would you tolerate being called such names on a daily basis at your workplace? And wouldn't such be considered as verbal abuse or harassment?
Well, according to the Ministry of Manpower, it depends on circumstances.
TOC was informed by social workers that when complaints of verbal abuse are brought up to MOM, they are told such comments are not considered verbal abuse because there are "no vulgarities".
According to Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), a local NGO which deals with migrant workers particularly domestic workers, verbal abuse is one of the top complaints by domestic workers.
Domestic workers are told on a regular basis, "F**k you", "KNN", "CB" and some variation of "you have no brains"/"are you stupid"/"use your coconut". Sometimes really demeaning stuff like "you should be a prostitute, you are so useless".
Between April to December 2017, HOME received 330 complaints of verbal abuse.
While MOM claims comments such as "stupid, pig dog" are not considered verbal abuse because no vulgarities but even if there are vulgarities, no action are taken.
MOM does not punish employers for verbal abuse. Only if the comments towards domestic workers become "criminal intimidation" (e.g. "I will kill you") then a police report will be asked to be filed.
TOC wrote to MOM on 29 Dec 2017, asking if MOM could comment on whether terms such as dog, pig and stupid addressed to workers considered as verbal abuse.
In response, MOM wrote,
Any allegation of ill-treatment, including verbal abuse, would be thoroughly looked into by the authorities and assessed based on the circumstances and facts surrounding the case. Members of the public who wish to feedback on ill-treatment of a foreign worker or foreign domestic worker (FDW) can contact MOM at 64385122 or email to [email protected].
Apart from approaching MOM, FDWs affected may also approach the Centre For Domestic Employees (CDE) for assistance. FDWs can contact CDE at their 24-hour toll free helpline: 1800-2255-233.
CDE is a migrant worker help centre managed by NTUC.
When TOC wrote again to ask MOM to clearly define what does the ministry deem to be verbal abuse, MOM wrote, "We wish to reiterate that any allegation of ill-treatment, including verbal abuse, would need to be assessed based on the circumstances and facts surrounding the case."
Man charged for using insulting words on public servant
Mr Chan Kong Thoe, 67, was fined $3,000 after he was found guilty for using insulting words against Ms Elizabeth Aw, a public service officer with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), during a meeting in 2016 with her and another officer, Mr G. Kumaran, at the Social Service Office in Bukit Batok.
Chan was charged under the Protection from Harassment Act. It was said in court that he showed further disrespect when making reference to Ms Elizabeth Aw being "a low-class officer".
Chan had tried to apply for an extension for MSF-run ComCare scheme but was disqualifed for not disclosing he had withdrawn $147,538 from his Central Provident Fund (CPF) account on turning 55 in October 2015. He was expected to show documentary proof of how he exhausted all his CPF funds within five months.
TOC understands that Chan claims to have used the money to repay loans from friends who had loaned him money to tide over the period of time before he collected his CPF money. MSF had asked him to show proof that he had indeed repaid his friends using the CPF money and in return, Chan said to Ms Au during the meeting, "You want me to take out my pen to show you meh?"
But according to the civil servant, Chan had said, "You want me to take out my pants to show you meh?".
It is said that the audio recording presented in court was poor in quality and even the judge could not make out what was said. So it is one's account against another.
District Judge Lim Tse Haw, in his judgment grounds, said: "There was simply no excuse for (Chan) to behave in the way he did in this case." The judge added that "public service workers must be protected from such abuse in the course of their work".