Why I went AWOL, part 2

My home repairs were going badly. I needed a casual worker, but the first one I hired turned out to be rather a disaster. Meanwhile, my neighbour comes up with a plan. Full essay.

17 Responses to “Why I went AWOL, part 2”

  1. 1 Sunfleur 5 September 2009 at 03:08

    Hi YB, you are really too trusting and too kind – stole your money, forgive; ate your chocolate w/o permission, also forgive. And you even think up of reasons about these foriegn workers coming from a different country and different cultures. Whao! So cool! Your are really my 偶像, man! [read: ou(3)xiang(4)], i.e. “idol”.

    Anyway, good to know that you found a much more reliable and trustworthy helper to complete the tasks.

    BTW, good luck to your “matchmaking” deal. It’s quite funny. Can’t help but kept giggling. Quite confident you’ll know how to reject this nosey little old lady if she bugs you again.

  2. 2 jpatokal 5 September 2009 at 09:57

    Interesting story, but — is it legal for foreign workers to take on casual work like that? You may be inadvertently be getting them into a heap of trouble by posting this online.

  3. 3 ben 5 September 2009 at 16:16

    I hope you gave Azad a nice little bonus. People should be rewarded for doing good work.

  4. 4 yawningbread 5 September 2009 at 21:12

    Azad had a Special Pass. NGO staff have confirmed that it’s legal for him to seek casual work under this scheme.

    It makes sense. These are workers in dispute with their bosses, and so they have been suspended or terminated from their jobs. But because the dispute is unresolved, they are staying on temporarily in Singapore. How are they to feed themselves and get by if they are not allowed to work? Wouldn’t they be tempted into crime if desperate?

    I think that it might be a good idea if any reader needs spring cleaning or similar work, to use such labour. They are the people most in need of help and the 40 dollars they get go a long way.

  5. 5 sybil 6 September 2009 at 00:57

    Im glad things worked out for you in the end. I thinks its great that you took the time to think about the reasons for Mahindra’s behaviour. It’s far too easy to slap a label on ppl, fire them etc.. at least you gave a couple of chances, that was nice of you.
    And then there is Azad who defied the stereotype of the lazy, cheating foreign worker. I’ve had my share of foreign domestic help and sometimes I wonder what could compel them to say or do the things they do. Just being humans I guess, and when their trust has been ruined (mistreatment by previous employer), they tend to behave in a defensive way. The current help once went through a phase of wearing t-shirts with holes in them. We were quite annoyed as we expect her to dress well and knew she had plenty of brand new t shirts. Her reasoning was “so that ppl pity me”. ?? This is from someone who would be the only well dressed maid at functions to the point where ppl couldnt tell she was a maid. We would insist that she dressed well, so as to not “leave her out”. A quick reprimand later, she stopped with the hole-y shirts. I guess there is a lot more going on then they let us on.

  6. 6 Lee Chee Wai 6 September 2009 at 03:23

    Your recent string of experiences seem bizarre and surreal. Hope you are coping well.

    I feel sorry for Mahindra. I do not know what would happen to him under a “real” employer.

    As for Azad, while I agree with your analysis regarding religion, it does feel a little wrong to make that decision before finding out if he can keep up with the work requirements while fasting. A restaurateur here in my town fasts but continues to work and seems to be no less efficient. I do feel bad eating while chatting with him about life (he was from Iraq with family still there) though.

    Do you plan on telling the old lady you’re gay or would that be unwise?

  7. 7 yawningbread 6 September 2009 at 10:26

    Chee Wai – I sometimes feel this whole business of non-discrimination re religion is just political correctness. I chose to mention the question in my essay because I think the political correctness we imbibe needs to be compared against reality.
    With due respect, the reality is this: Why should I hire a worker, pay him $40 a day, for, say, two days, just to find out whether he’s able to keep up the necessary pace of work despite fasting? What if he does not keep up? Do I get my $80 back? Do I get reimbursed for the extra hassle of looking of a replacement on the third day? Sure, there are plenty of other possible reasons why a worker may not work out and I might have to get rid of him anyway, but rationality dictates that I minimise the possible risks.
    I’ve been to Dubai and Brunei during Ramadhan, These countries slow down to a crawl. If not for the legions of non-Muslim foreign workers, the countries would shut down altogether. Let’s just say, I was not impressed by the shibboleth that fasting workers can perform just as well as non-fasting ones.

  8. 8 yawningbread 6 September 2009 at 10:29

    Sybil – I have horror stories about maids too. A previous maid my family had to look after my aging father was a jewel. Her sister, also a maid in Singapore, was, in Singapore-speak – “havoc”. She would steal out of her employer’s house, met Bangla boyfriends, spin any number of lies…. Whenever others were looking for her, they would end up bothering her sister (our maid) which meant that the sister’s problems spilled into our family.

  9. 9 Teck Soon 7 September 2009 at 01:35

    I think it should be illegal for companies to ask workers to declare their race, religion, marital status, or sexual orientation before hiring. If the religious discrimination you hypothesize about were legal, it could easily turn into racial discrimination. This is because race and religion are correlated in Singapore, so allowing one form of discrimination is effectively the same as allowing another. Even if fasting is statistically correlated with decreased productivity, it’s unwise to assume that a given worker will be unproductive on account of his religion. Anyway – just as religion is a choice, so is what one gets to do on his or her own lunch break. Why must employers try to take control of their workers’ private lives when they are on their own lunch break (by demanding that they eat, for example), or what type of boyfriend a maid wants to date? Isn’t that her own business? I think that work should be judged based only on its quality, and questions of whom the maid is dating or what/when the worker is eating is going way overboard on what ought to be appropriate in an employee/employer relationship. They are hired to do a certain job, not to have their lives taken over by strict non-work-related rules and regulations that only Singaporeans know how to concoct. The $80 you pay and don’t get back if the worker doesn’t work out well is part of the price you pay to live in a developed, modern, diverse, and tolerant society. Do you plan to ask university professors at NTU not to fast too, in order to make sure they don’t get too sleepy during lecture and might not explain a topic well?

  10. 10 KiWeTO 7 September 2009 at 09:36

    Privacy of Contract?


    If I contract with someone to perform a job at the stated performance level, he fails to do so, and I sue for breach of contract (and the agreed agreed schedule of damages)

    can he then cite religious reasons (eg: Fasting) as a reason for failure to perform? As a mitigating factor?

    Does that then give religion a special place above and beyond others?

    If so, does it than make it positive discrimination in the wrong way?

    Would we still be equal before the law then?

    [For the record, I do employ people of Islamic faith; At the same time, the particular job does not entail them risking heatstroke due to a personal choice.

    Then again, would fasting people in tasks that contain physical risk then have special dispensation else the employer run the risk of medical injuries? Would that be unfair in terms of equivalent job-demands to a non-Muslim?]

    [Not looking at any individual in particular, but could not the above then be considered intentional malingering in the army under the guise of “religiousity”?

    [Perception is relative.]

  11. 11 Larry 8 September 2009 at 10:28

    I see you removed his picture too.

  12. 12 Lee Chee Wai 8 September 2009 at 11:50


    I agree your views on the matter with regard to your situation. In your case, you had a short term project with some time-constrained goals which happens to coincide with the month of Ramadan. As it involved manual labor, it would be rather strenuous on fasting individuals who are not allowed to drink (if I’m not mistaken) through the hot Singapore day.

    In general, however, I do not think the issue is linked as much to political correctness as to what I believe is the innate human emotion to give people a fair shot at a task that should not be a serious challenge for them to complete.

  13. 13 yawningbread 8 September 2009 at 14:49

    Chee Wai –

    Thank you for your response. We’re making headway. For my part let me explain my views (and this is also in reply to Teck Soon).

    How religion blind we ought to be is not a simple either/or issue; it is a matter of balance and in striking that balance, scale has everything to do with it.

    A large employer of fulltime employees should not be discriminating against Muslims who fast, because the effect of having such employees on his payroll is minor. By statistical average, Muslims will be a minority in his workforce, fasting is only one month in twelve. The “cost” to him as an employer is relatively small, the loss of productivity a tiny percentage spread over a year, and to use Teck Soon’s words, is “part of the price you pay to live in a developed, modern, diverse, and tolerant society.”

    My home repair case represented the opposite extreme of a large employer. I wanted ONE guy for a week or so, entirely during the month of Ramadhan. The impact of fasting would be on 100 percent of my workforce, 100 percent of the time. This is disproportionate to my responsibility to society.

    In case readers don’t know, my businesses have always had, and continue to have, employees who are Muslim, many of whom do fast.

    • 14 Martha de Beest 8 September 2009 at 19:50

      I’ve known people who fast and work full time, and it hasn’t impacted their work in the least. It’s not really lengthy fasting, it’s just eating at a different time of day to usual. Occasionally I’ve joined in for social reasons, and it’s been an enjoyable experience,it seemed more cultural than religious, and the food is great.

      I’m more concerned about the push for special rights and exemptions for (some) religious groups that are being aggressively sought globally by,in particular, extremist Christians, to the detriment of others. Their favorite word is “trumped”. Every time they claim their “rights” are being trumped by others and play the victim card, they seem to use the same robotic mantra. It’s almost as if they go on the same course on internet/press debate and use the same photocopied notes.

  14. 15 Natasha 10 September 2009 at 15:32

    While there are far far more offensive things out there, I find your contortions over the issue of discrimination vs. political correctness depressing in a blog that claims to champion non-discrimination and open-mindedness. It is your prejudice that says a fasting person is not productive. Anecdotal evidence about what you saw on a holiday visit somewhere is exactly the kind of ‘evidence’ that feeds bigotry and prejudice – casual, selective and nicely onforming to your pre-existing ideas. People said exactly the same things about employing women to do ‘men’s work’ – they would be weaker, less efficient, why should an employer have to subsidise them in the name of political correctness… Hell, people make the same or similar arguments about why they shouldn’t have to employ gays – I used to work for the armed forces (of another country) and the casual chat over the issue of gays in the military always consisted of claims that they’d be disruptive, they wouldn’t perform as well .. (and of course they’d sexually assault anyone sharing sleeping quarters with them – why take the risk).
    Well here’s a little counter-evidence on fasting: I employ someone who is currently fasting, and I notice no difference in productivity. I have spent years in close association with several people who fast, including those whose work required a great deal more physical exertion than painting a wall. I have frequently spent days involved in physically demanding outdoor activities (yes, in this climate) with people who are fasting. And for the most part, they pulled their weight, and performed as well (or badly) as they usually did. Whatever toll fasting takes on them I don’t know – but that’s their problem, not yours. Remember, you’re talking about redecorating your house, not brain surgery.

    Given the vast spectrum of potential peformance ouput a worker may may exhibit, the amount of variance accounted for by whether they are fasting or not is dwarfed by the impact of things like attitude, honesty, competence…

    Yeah, frankly, you just look like you’re finding an excuse for prejudice.

    • 16 Martha de Beest 11 September 2009 at 17:46

      I agree with Natasha on this.

      My suggestion to Alex is stop compartmentalising your life and acquaintances. Make more friends from other ethnic groups. Try joining in on the fasting, have a big breakfast before dawn, and a slap-up meal after sunset and see first hand if it affects your productivity. Maybe you’ll get more done by getting up so early.

    • 17 Jeremy 12 September 2009 at 15:42

      While you do make good points, I find it ironic that in your attempt to counter anecdotal evidence, you chose to provide ‘counter-evidence’ that is itself anecdotal.

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