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Different Wavelengths?


I was reading the exchanges that were sparked off by Stephanie Chok’s letter to Today. Spark is the right word – for sparks definitely flew.

When Stephanie Chok wrote in to Today, her primary objective was to point out inaccurate reporting. She took objection to the article’s claim that the foreign worker, Yang Wei, had not approached MOM when, in actuality, he did.

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.

 Stephanie’s objection to this inaccuracy is that it

serve(s) to further criminalize a worker who resorted to an act of desperation after having been denied his rightful salary payments.

 She then went on to discuss issues regarding errant employers, asking MOM for

harsher measures meted out to recalcitrant employers who remain non-compliant despite official intervention

I am going to post this link Letter to Today- two versions – as this has both letters side by side.

I am not here to judge Stephanie’s claims re foreign workers. However, I do agree that this inaccurate reporting on the part of Today does taint Yang Wei’s character.

Today apparently called to check with Stephanie whether Yang Wei actually made a report to MOM. Beats me why they did not check with MOM directly. Then it published her letter after editing. The edition of note is this:

Stephanie’s version:

 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’s version

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.

Stephanie then cried foul at this insertion that was not in her original letter.

Worthy point to note – There were 27 comments on TOC webpage, and 31 comments on the FB page at this point. Quite a lukewarm response really. The main target of the comments were against Today in particular, and mainstream media in general.

Then the real action started. MOM made it a point to clarify inaccuracy in Stephanie’s letter, defending their own stands. MOM’s response. Of course it is has every right to defend itself. What is interesting is this statement:

On July 4, Yang trespassed into a worksite at Changi South and refused to get down from the crane unless S$5,000 was paid to him. The main contractor of the site gave him the money so as not to “prolong the stand-off or provoke an accident”, said the MOM. The payment that day was “unrelated to any of his salary or other claims”, the ministry added.

This is very different from the edition Today inserted into Stephanie’s original letter.

MOS Tan Chuan-Jin then jumped into the fray, and mentioned he was “disappointed” with Stephanie. Protecting Foreign Workers? Just because FWs cry foul doesn’t mean that they are always in the right…

When Stephanie replied, he said, amongst other things

While it may not be your intent, some do try and stir sentiments on this matter. While emotive, I am not sure if it is helpful in our efforts to do what is necessary to safeguard the interests of our workers, and might I add, from time to time, the employers as well.

This exchange between Stephanie and MOS Tan was also published in TOC Facebook page, and drew 35 comments.

More exchanges ensued, with netizens taking sides. MOS Tan’s facebook note drew 58 responses. The latest comment from MOS Tan includes this

 This is not personal in any way. Reading your comments here, especially by Ms Chok, I accept that my stating I was disappointed with her actions may have seemed rather harsh. I actually fully recognise the work that she has done and continues to do. I think I was probably more disapppointed with how the situation unfolded especially as I have asked my colleagues to step up our interaction and to strengthen the working relationship with our NGOs. 

I apologise for the extremely long summary. Reading the back and forth, I cannot help but feel that there are different wavelengths operating here.

Stephanie was concerned with inaccurate reporting and its effects on Yang Wei. She also pleaded for harsher deterrent measures to be taken against recalcitrant employers. In other words, she was speaking in her capacity as a social activist.

MOM was concerned about the possible slur on their work.

MOS  Tan was concerned about the inaccuracy of Stephanie’s letter, and its emotive effect.

Guess what? MOS Tan can lay his fear at rest. Frankly, given the many issues Singaporeans are grappling with today, foreign workers’ rights, though passionately defended by a noble few, are transparent to most. This is not where the emotions, even if wrongly displayed, are likely to cause upheaval. In fact, being “emotive” may spur more to good works.

MOM defending itself is justifiable. Employees, not necessarily foreign workers have often wished for more protection and may get upset with them whenever they see a “negative” report.  However, Stephanie’s plea for harsher deterrent measures for errant employers is exactly what it is – a plea. In other words, whatever MOM has been doing, can it do more. In explaining Yang Wei’s case specifically, perhaps MOM was right, and Stephanie was wrong. However, she was appealing for this in general, and the question that remains is whether there were other cases of abuse that went undetected, undeterred, and whether more can be done.

With the exception of activists and those with an axe to grind, the main ire of netizens on the whole is against biased and inaccurate reporting by main stream media. This is not addressed by either MOS Tan or MOM. Today was not called to task for its inaccuracy. Instead, Stephanie’s allegedly one-sided view is highlighted and discussed at length.

This is where emotions can get highly charged, yet this is where silence is maintained. So perplexing.

I am not here to defend Stephanie – I do not know her. I have not checked the accuracy of her claims.

In this exchange, it seems that everybody is right, and everybody is wrong at some point. And everybody is talking at the same time, but not really about the same thing.

And netizens’ real concern remains unaddressed

  1. christine
    August 3, 2011 at 4:49 am

    Fantastic summary. Well done.

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      August 3, 2011 at 6:25 am

      paiseh! but after all this, trying my best to be accurate. who knows who will come after me!

  2. Lau hc
    August 3, 2011 at 5:07 am

    totally agreed. its Today that has to be taken to task

  3. WL
    August 4, 2011 at 6:41 am

    I think from reading MOS Tan’s reply (which you have highlighted “This is not personal in any way… the working relationship with our NGOs.”) he probably realised he had perhaps made a mistake and was too harsh with his initial response, based on TODAY “edited” version, of Stephanie Chok’s letter, and tried to soften his stance without actually apologising. What I noticed, though, was his silence on the inaccurate reporting by TODAY throughout the exchanges. While I applaud his effort in trying to engage with the netizens, I feel that FB is not the correct platform to justify his ministry’s actions. Like you mentioned, emotions can get highly charged, and choice of words used can be misintepreted, He could have written directly to the NGO involved, and all these to-ing and fro-ing-ing would have been unnecessary. For me, this incident leaves a sour taste because the biased and inaccurate reporting by main stream media, which started it all, has yet again not been dealt with.

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      August 4, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Agreed. Our MIW really need to learn how to say sorry nicely. It would have been more balanced if he had also mentioned Today’s errors. However, at least he did not brush aside the criticisms. I hope there will be improvement. To be fair to MOS Tan, he has handled this situation better than some others.

  4. Charles Tan
    August 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I thought this was a good summary. But I read the correspondences in the link attached (quite exciting exchanges!), and thought the issue isn’t about the Today article and editing. I think MOM and/or BG Tan’s response was directed at the comments made about the case. Which on reading Ms Chok’s points, were quite strong.

    I guess there are different angles. Worth reading the exchanges…


    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      August 5, 2011 at 12:15 am

      And yes, definitely different angles!! *smile*. Pet peeves make for pet responses i guess. Myself included

  5. SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
    August 5, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Yes- at your link this is true. i read these comments too. However, this is where my “With the exception of activists and those with an axe to grind,” is. Also, while it is true that “just because fws cry foul doesn’t mean they are right,” it also doesn’t mean that while MOM has come to certain conclusions, the conclusion is not in dispute. I do not know since i am not involved. Certainly as i mentioned, MOM and MOS Tan did have the right to defend/question

    I am more curious why Today is silent, and even though inaccurate, was not taken to task. The following excerpt from the original article

    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.

    I would read it to mean that YW was indeed shortchanged and the money was due to him. Hence, the original inaccuracy still stemmed from Today. This is on top of their false conclusion that YW did not consult with MOM.

    The netizens on the whole are more concerned about Today’s inaccurate reporting, The inaccuracy of the reporting, coupled with the insertion of information – which by the way is NOT editing, kinda “confirms” the netizens suspicion that mainstream media cannot be trusted. This has to be addressed.

    So yes, the issue is not just about Today, but the issue for many is still why the issue about Today is not handled.

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