A Chinese couple who knelt on a busy road outside a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) office to complain about an employment agency in their native country were each jailed for five weeks yesterday.
Mechanic Bao Weilong, 29, and his wife, Yang Xuemei, 28, a sales assistant, went to the MOM Services Centre in Bendemeer Road to find out if she could get a refund of the $6,000 fee she paid to an agent to help her find work in Singapore. She said that she had been cheated.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan told the court that when a customer service officer informed them that MOM could not help her, the couple proceeded to the foyer and knelt - each holding an A4 sheet of paper with a message saying that Yang had been cheated by an agent and needed MOM's help to get a refund of the agency fees.
Subsequently, three MOM officers ushered them to an interview room. As a settlement could not be reached, the couple then proceeded to the pavement near the bus stop outside the centre and knelt again with the same pieces of paper. They were seen to be crying.
MOM officers persuaded them to return to the interview room again. Another discussion was held with the couple and Yang's local agent, who had been asked to go there.
When the couple heard that only half the fees could be refunded, Bao told his wife not to waste time but to "carry out Plan B". They left and knelt on Bendemeer Road in the midst of oncoming traffic, clutching the messages.
Security officers asked them to move away but they refused to budge. The officers had to divert traffic before pulling the couple off the road and back to the centre where they were arrested.
Videos and pictures taken by drivers and passers-by of the couple were uploaded onto social media.
Both pleaded guilty to committing a rash act and criminal trespass.
Pleading for leniency, Bao said he was "sorry and remorseful" that his actions had broken the law. He added that he hoped to remain here to work to support his family.
Yang said she had elderly parents and children to support in China, and was unaware of the laws here.
District Judge Imran Abdul Hamid, who backdated their sentence to Aug 26, said despite MOM officers telling them what they could or could not do, they persisted.
He told them they could not blackmail officers.
"Genuine grievances should be aired legitimately,'' he said.
They could have been jailed for up to six months and/or fined up to $2,500 for the rash act; and jailed up to three months and/or fined up to $1,500 for criminal trespass.
MOM said yesterday it takes a serious view of foreigners who breach Singapore laws. It will revoke the work passes of those charged, convicted and jailed, and permanently bar them from working here.