Yesterday’s Straits Times showed a picture of foreign workers who moonlighted as street barbers dropping their tools and fleeing for their lives as the authorities moved in. (These moonlighters were charging a measly four dollars for a haircut and their customers were also mostly foreign laborers as well.)
Like Navy SEALS going after Osama bin Laden, as many as 15 officers from the Ministry of Manpower and the National Environment Agency swooped in on the moonlighting barbers around noon on Sunday.
Three of the barbers – two Indians and one Bangladeshi – who were actually off-duty construction workers were arrested for contravening work permit and environmental health regulations. They may face a fine of up to $20,000 and up to two years in jail for contravening work permit regulations.
Carrying out business in common passageways, corridors, stairways and courtyards or landings of any premises is also not permitted. This is why the National Environment Agency participated in the raid as well.
The maximum penalty for doing business at the “wrong” places is $1,000, $2,000 and $5,000 for the first, second and subsequent convictions, respectively. I’m sure those otherwise very bored and demotivated National Environment Agency officers must have thought they have found mother lode when asked to participate in the raid. Must be heck of a boring chasing dengue mosquitoes, or second-hand smoke for a living. Must have always fantasized about being commandos raiding Al-Qaeda hideouts or at least apprehending Mas Selamat.
Frankly, this whole joint assault is a bit of an overkill. It reminded me of the authorities going after itinerant street hawkers back in the days of my childhood. Back then, food hygiene and the cleanliness of the environment was the reason given for the attacks on hawkers, who were later licensed and housed in “hawker centers” which are now known as “food courts.”
But these poor hapless fellas trying to make ends meet being hounded like petty criminals? It’s not like they were getting drunk and unruly like some of their counterparts or humping prostitutes on their off days or starting mega-churches to scam clueless believers of their hard-earned money.
And talking about prostitutes, how about going after those Filipino maids who moonlight as hairdressers, manicurists and yes, prostitutes? How about those “guest relations officers” from China who work in karaokes but would not hesitate to go down on their knees to give you a blowjob if the price is right? Is anybody going after them? How about the “study mamas” moonlighting as hookers when we let them in on the pretext that they are here to accompany their children who have opted to take advantage of our schools and our educational system? Also, where are the National Environment Agency officers when people are having sex at staircase landings and leaving their used condoms and soiled tissues all over the frigging place? And who is going after “health centers” who are nothing but fronts for prostitution? How about “foreign talents” who, through their sweet talk, have conned their way into our job market but continue to deliver nothing noteworthy? Isn’t that even more criminal than cutting hair by the roadside for four bucks? What about company directors who declare “altruistically” that they take no salary but accept huge “honorariums” and other paybacks amounting to millions of dollars? And how about going after the wealthy who hire experts to help them pay less taxes than they should so that they can buy private yachts or go skiing at St Moritz or fatten their ugly wives at places like PS Cafe?
I sure hope the authorities would be lenient with those three freelance barbers. Rigid implementation of the law by unthinking, inflexible bureaucrats always rile me up and make me root for the underdogs. Unless your heart is made of stone, you won’t tolerate defenseless underdogs being tormented either.