Saturday, December 8, 2012

Protesting on a crane: Interrogating meanings



On Thursday, 6/12/12, two Chinese workers workers perched themselves on a tower crane to protest outstanding wages that were owed to them by their employer Zhong Jiang (S) international:

http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/two-workers-china-charged-criminal-trespass-after-crane-protest-201212

The workers were charged with criminal tresspass for their crane protest.



From the preliminary findings from the Ministry of Manpower, it is apparent that the two workers Zhu Guilei and Wu Xiaolin had approached customer relations of MOM on Wednesday, 5/12/12 over the outstanding salaries but did not have any supporting documents.

In my fieldwork with migrant workers, listening to their voices, I have often heard anecdotal accounts of unpaid wages.

From a communicative standpoint, the question that relates to the complaint registered by the MOM focuses on "What supporting documents were needed by the ministry?" "How are these supporting documents communicated to the workers?" "How do workers come to know the supporting documents they would need to register a complaint about an employer or an agent?"

Structural inequities are often perpetuated through communicative inequities.

What then are the opportunities for migrant workers to address structural inequities?

The notion that there are policies in place is a welcome notion. But the challenge really comes from the translation of these policies? The challenge comes in the interpretive frames amid the intersections of culture, structure, and agency?

How do those that are disenfranchised come to know about opportunities for participation in mainstream spaces that would hold accountable the structures that disenfranchise them?

Even more, what are the risks of participation for the disenfranchised? Are these risks equitably distributed in discursive frames? What are the opportunities of participation for the disenfranchised?

The workers were jailed for protesting because they trespassed.

What are the consequences for employers that don't pay wages? What evidence is needed to hold employers accountable? Upon whom is the onus of providing such evidence?

Information lies at the heart of structural inequities. Information inequities perpetuate material inaccess, and therefore, policies at holding employers accountable need to work hand-in-hand with building information access in culturally meaningful ways and ensuring that appropriate implementation of policies takes place.

 

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