A Chinese construction worker was jailed ten weeks by a judge, January 13, 2012, for criminal trespass, committed when he staged a one-man protest at a worksite. On October 19, 2011, Ai Yong Li went up seven floors of an incomplete block of apartments and climbed out onto the scaffold, threatening to jump to his death. He demanded $15,000 from his employer, Chinese construction company Yangzijiang International, as compensation for a back injury.

His sentencing was reported by the Straits Times (Jan 14, 2012: Worker who threatened suicide jailed for trespass by Khushwant Singh) and Channelnews Asia (Jan 13, 2012: Man jailed for trespassing in suicide scare. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1176557/1/.html).

The Straits Times reported the judge to have said: ‘What you have done is to blackmail the employer. That has no place here.’

In an attempt to persuade him to come down, a representative of the company had to climb up to pass him $12,000. However, the judge ordered this sum to be returned to the company.

The Straits Times had an associated article (Straits Times, January 14, 2012, Injury cases: Go to MOM, say help groups, by Lin Wenjian) reporting the advice given by TWC2 and Home, that workers with complaints should avail themselves of the processes set out by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Ai had not sought help from either TWC2 or Home. Neither did the news reports say whether Ai had even lodged an injury claim with MOM.

Home’s executive director, Jolovan Wham, put cases like Ai’s into context. He was quoted as saying: “Most of these workers come to us because they have no money for survival – they can’t work and they are not paid their medical leave wages by their employers.” The Straits Times added that Jolovan thought that Ai might have been driven to desperation, and that “These workers usually feel that nobody is helping them with their problems and decide to do things their way.”

TWC2 told the Straits Times that back injuries are perhaps the most common among the injuries we see. Moreover back injuries also trigger a lot of disputes because unlike on other parts of the body, back injuries are less visible and employers are often tempted to dispute their workers’ claims.

“The employers start with the view that the workers are exaggerating,” the Straits Times reported Alex Au of TWC2 as saying. But such an assumption, in TWC2’s view, makes no sense, because workers are here in Singapore to make as much money as possible to send home. It is not in their interest to malinger as they can earn more money by staying on the job and working overtime.

Straits Times also reported that TWC2 saw about 70 cases of injuries a month in 2011 (see also  the graph at https://twc2.org.sg/2012/01/10/cuff-road-project-2011-types-of-cases-seen/). Home saw 3 to 5 injury cases a week last year, while NTUC-affiliated Migrant Workers Centre saw about 20 cases a year.