Written by Ng E-Jay
01 March 2009
In this fast paced society, it is not everyday that we hear stories of concerned Singaporeans standing up for the rights of others or displaying a regard for their fellow human beings.
Yet as activist Jaslyn Go has recently demonstrated, sometimes all it takes is a little initiative and a determination to set things right.
A couple of weeks ago, Jaslyn noticed an elderly gentleman who appeared to be a town council staff based on the attire he was wearing shouting at a Bangladeshi worker at the lift lobby of her HDB block. The elderly man was hurling vulgarities at the worker. That the place was not clean enough in “his bloody standards” and that the worker had “bloody well do a better job” were but some of the nasty remarks passed. The worker’s embarrassment at being shouted at in public emboldened the elderly man who raised his voice even more. This monologue went on in full view of many of Jaslyn’s neighbours who had gathered at the life lobby waiting for the lift.
Even after Jaslyn reached home, she could still hear the commotion coming from downstairs.
Displeased with the over-bearing nature and arrogant attitude of that elderly man, Jaslyn made a telephone call to the town council, and was able to ascertain that the elderly man was indeed a town council staff named Joe Tan. She then proceeded to lodge an official complaint with the town council, saying that the behaviour of the staff was uncalled for, and sarcastically wondered whether the staff had justified his abuse by considering the foreign worker a “lesser mortal“. Jaslyn reminded the town council that PAP Minister Lim Boon Heng had previously said that Singaporeans are dependent on foreign labour to retain their jobs (a statement Jaslyn and I of course disagree with), and that the staff had better start showing more respect for others.
The town council wrote back to Jaslyn saying that the relevant staff “has been advised and reminded on the proper way of communicating with the worker”. They also explained:
We share your concerns. It is not good for the Town Council to be perceived by the public as showing disrespect to their cleaners, whether foreigners or locals. We have reminded all our staff and contractors to be wary of their conduct in public.
Did this satisfy our plucky activist Jaslyn? Of course not! Jaslyn wrote back stating that she believed that the staff owed the cleaner an apology, and in her words:
Till apology is given to the cleaner, I do not see any justice done to the embarrassment and humiliation the cleaner was put through by your staff.
Jaslyn also reminded the town council that even after their initial conversation over the phone, the staff could still be heard shouting at the worker downstairs, and that his tirade had continued even after the town council claimed they contacted him by cell phone.
The town council was forced to respond to Jaslyn again. This time, they said that the management of the town council had met up with the staff and the worker, and that the staff acknowledged he was in the wrong to lose his temper. The cleaner, on his part, also acknowledged that he had been tardy in his duties. The message from the town council ended off by stating that:
Through this episode, both parties have come to respect one another better as working partners to deliver a better service to the residents.
Indeed from this episode, we can see the value of an active citizenry in looking out for the needs and rights of others, and keeping our public servants on their toes at all times.
Active citizen Jaslyn Go could have easily ignored the injustice happening before her eyes, but because she made the effort to put things right, she made life a little better for a fellow human being, and gave the town council staff an attitude readjustment he would probably not forget for some time.