TL;DR – Would you clap for the mall that goes all out to keep the toilets exclusive for you, or would you boycott a mall whose action seems to discriminate against migrant workers?
Management at Wisma Atria has put up signs in the mall’s toilets disallowing the contractors, presumably mostly foreign workers, working on the building’s construction to use them, and it is angering many Singaporeans.
These signs were placed outside the men’s toilets on all five floors of the shopping mall located along Orchard Road. They directed the contractors (and workers) to a 5th-floor toilet in the carpark. The mall management has also issued a warning that any worker caught using any other toilets will not be allowed to continue working on the premises and may be subjected to fines.
According to a Wisma Atria spokesperson, the restriction arose when mall-goers complained about the workers showering in the toilets or washing their tools in the sinks.
This has caused a backlash. Many Singaporeans are taking to social media to share their frustrations against what one Facebook user aptly described as “blue-collar discrimination”. Though the mall pleads a practical reason, the segregation was perceived by some netizems to have been borne from the idea that the construction workers are too dirty/filthy to use the same toilets as shoppers. They interprete that the divide is a case of “I’m cleaner and better than you”, which stinks to high heaven.
Many Singaporeans support calls such as the one made by Facebook user Mira Mishaela, wanting the mall management to stop the workers from specific activities, like showering and washing tools in the mall toilet, instead of instead of prohibiting the use of the toilets altogether.
Another Facebook user, Ng Yi Sheng shared that both his grandfathers were coolies, and they too would have been prevented from using the toilets, raising a fair point that many Singaporeans have ancestors who once did blue-collared work, and discrimination against them is downright ironic.
Later, one of Ng’s friends shared a lesser-thought-of perspective.
Sure, we too think there are practical reasons why the contractors and their workers are barred from using the same toilets as the shoppers. Sure, perhaps we laypeople are not familiar with the usual practices on worksites, construction sites and all. But still, this is a story with a silver lining.
The silver lining in this controversy is that the ‘righteous’ anger shows that Singaporeans are more markedly and remarkably more sensitive about issues relating to discrimination. That Singaporeans should feel angry because construction workers aren’t allowed to use the toilet is a sign of a community dedicated to treating each other with fairness and respect, something that may not have been so one or two decades ago.
This incident comes hot on the heels of another project addressing discrimination. Familiar Strangers, a social media project by a group of final year NTU students. The (beautiful!) project recently went viral for sharing stories of migrant workers who work in our tiny island-state and has received positive response from the public. According to statistics shared by the team, 84% of survey respondents shared they are more willing to interact with migrant workers after knowing their stories, and the project saw a 90% improvement of sentiments towards migrant workers.
Amos Chen, a co-creator of Familiar Strangers, has this to share,
“The fact is we need people to take up jobs to help build and develop (literally speaking) our nation, because I don’t believe that any Singaporean would take up these jobs”
“So if we want them to help build our nation, we have to also give them their own personal space, and more importantly treat them fairly with respect. Because these workers are human beings too, and the nature of their jobs does not make these individuals any less dignified compared to us.”
[alert color=”green” icon=”fa-heart”]Is Singapore becoming a better and more caring society?[/alert]
There are certainly signs of it. While there are, and will continue to be, some teething problems, issues like the signs outside toilets at Wisma Atria continue to be important because they open up conversations about the rights that anyone living and working in Singapore is entitled.
Like how this Facebook user, Iko Pai Kia, reached out to the migrant worker he met at the bus stop.
Maybe it starts with a conversation or access to a toilet, but what grows from there is something better.