Asia Singapore Social Work Day seminar by Maliki and Sudha Nair likened to "conference...

Social Work Day seminar by Maliki and Sudha Nair likened to “conference for rightwing social workers”

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Some Social Workers take offense with Minister’s suggestion to undertake advocacy respectfully.

It can be frustrating for social workers to hit a roadblock when appealing to government agencies to extend help to their clients or for certain policy exceptions. But instead of viewing these agencies as adversaries, it is important for social workers to understand the intent of the policies and to advocate for clients in a way that is reasonable for society, said Minister in the Prime Minister`s Office Maliki Osman on Tuesday (March 15).

He spoke about how social workers can impact policy at a seminar organised by family violence specialist centre Pave, held to mark Social Work Day. The seminar was held at The Grassroots’ Club in Ang Mo Kio.

Social workers should understand and explain policies to clients, said Dr Maliki, who is a trained social worker and who taught social work at the National University of Singapore before entering politics. But social workers can impact policy, said veteran social worker and Pave founder Sudha Nair. Nair is also a Member of the Council of Presidential Advisers.

When social workers advocate for clients respectfully, understand the authorities’ point of view and come to a compromise, the authorities will listen and make changes, said Nair. She added that she has seen this in her 30 years of experience in the field of social work. Dr Maliki also said that as a social worker-turned-politician, he advocated improving the employment rates of former convicts – now, some former convicts can have their criminal record erased if they do not reoffend for five consecutive years.

Some Twitter users have take issue with the Seminar. One user likened it to a “conference for rightwing social workers.” The user made the comment in sharing an old newspaper clip where Nair suggested that the poor should be questioned on their needs and choices.

Responding to a newspaper report on the seminar titled, “Social workers can impact policy with respectful advocacy: Maliki Osman”, Social Worker Jolovan Wham, 41, took issue with the Minister’s suggestion. “What he’s saying basically is, don’t make noise and know your place. If change happens, it’s on our terms, not yours,” Wham said in a Tweet.

He later Retweeted another Twitter user who said: “First of all, respectful to whom? Who decides? If someone is disrespectful to the state on behalf of the many who suffer, aren’t they being respectful to those they’re fighting for. Second of all, why be respectful to entities causing mass suffering and misery?”

In 2012 Wham rejected a Promising Social Worker Award given to him by the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW).He had actually been told that he would be receiving the Outstanding Social Worker Award. But because of an “administrative oversight” by the SASW, he was later informed that he would be given the Promising Social Worker Award instead. He eventually declined the honour for reasons he said he was “not at liberty to disclose”.

Wham studied social work at the National University of Singapore but was disillusioned by the programme which he calls “bankrupt.” He wanted a more “liberatory social work praxis’ and this led to him becoming a founding member of Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) a migrant rights NGO. He resigned from the organisation in 2015.

More recently, Wham was fined S$3,000 for taking part in an illegal assembly outside the State Courts in 2018. He was seen holding up a sign that read “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa” outside the State Courts on the morning of Dec 13, 2018.

He was convicted of one charge of taking part in an assembly in a prohibited area under the Public Order Act. The district court heard that he intends to appeal against the conviction and sentence.

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