berthahenson

Foreign affairs

In News Reports, Politics, Society on December 3, 2012 at 2:44 am

The dust has settled, or rather the bus decks have been cleared. The “troublemakers’’ are out of the country. I have no problem with booting troublemakers out of the country or into jail – if we are sure that they are troublemakers. And that goes for Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans. The colour of your IC doesn’t matter, It’s whether we do right by other human beings.

So why WERE these 29 bus drivers selected for that one-way ticket home? Rather odd. Going by news reports, some could have been on strike on the first day or second day or both, with or without medical leave….It could mean anyone of the Chinese bus drivers. It was reported that they played a “bigger’’ role – in what way? What did the police uncover? And why were they housed in a prison before deportation when they haven’t even been charged with a crime? As for some of the bus drivers who said they were “coerced’’ into joining the strike – who were the bullies then and why has no one been charged for criminal intimidation?

Many might be tempted to say “leave it be’’. After all, the incident is over and we should be focusing on the big picture, like the role of SMRT, foreigners in essential services, the relevance of trade unions, the causes of industrial action, human resource management. I agree.

But even as we tackle these issues based on the platform that those Chinese bus drivers have given us, we also have to deal with the rights of individuals and the duty of the State. After all, when we work abroad, we’d like to think we want to be treated abroad the way we’re treated at home.

While we are on the subject of foreigners, I was taken aback on reading Han Fook Kwang’s piece on the maid industry needing a cleanup in the Sunday Times. (By the way, that was the headline – which totally killed the supposed surprise element in the introductory paragraphs of the article which asked readers to guess at which industry he was referring to…. )

I was taken aback because of his tone – “If I were the Philippine or Indonesian government, I would…’’ especially as his prescription for foreign governments came after some careful writing on what he thinks the Singapore government should do – abolish the maid levy and set a minimum wage. Of course, he didn’t say this was what he would do “if he were the Singapore government’’.

The column ended with how the citizens of maid exporting countries were paying the price of weak government. I thought this was unnecessary.

Far better to have focused on the origins of the foreign maid levy; how it is different from the foreign workers (intended to make sure local pay doesn’t get depressed), what the levy is now used for and how to ensure minimum wage levels for maids are policed.

Then there was this piece in the Sunday Times on Sunny Verghese of Olam and his efforts to fend off attacks by short seller specialist Carson Block. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t portray him as the white knight charging to the defence of the company he built – just yet. The jury isn’t out on the allegations and counter-allegations.  Perhaps, there is this instinctive need to defend a Singapore company and portray it in the best light?

The above three examples give some food for thought methinks. About our attitudes, consciously or unconsciously, towards those who are “one of us’’ and those who are not.

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