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Tragic clash leaves 87-year-old cleaner injured in 2021, netizens reflect on elderly employment realities in Singapore

In March 2021, an 87-year-old cleaner was injured in a clash with a 57-year-old individual at Teban Gardens.

The latter recently received a ten-month sentence for causing harm to the elderly cleaner, who sadly passed away in April this year.

Netizens expressed empathy and surprise over the necessity for an 87-year-old to continue working.



SINGAPORE: A cleaner in his 80s sustained injuries following a forceful encounter with a younger individual while performing his duties at Teban Gardens estate on 27 March 2021.

The younger individual, Cheng Yew Kang, now aged 57, was sentenced to ten months imprisonment on 4 August after he pleaded guilty to voluntarily causing harm to the cleaner, Heng Yew Chuan.

According to the court’s account, during the morning in question, Mr Heng, then 87, was sweeping the communal area of Block 36 along Teban Gardens Road.

He noticed Cheng sitting on a bench and asked him to stand so he could clean underneath.

However, Cheng interpreted the request to be disrespectful and countered with, “You think I’m scared of you, ah?”

In response, Mr Heng replied that he, too, wasn’t scared of Cheng.

Cheng then advanced toward Mr Heng, who backed away from him.

Following that, Cheng pushed Mr Heng, causing him to fall and strike his head on the ground.

Bystanders rushed to Mr Heng’s aid upon witnessing the incident.

Heng hospitalised for 29 days

Afterward, Mr Heng was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, where he was found to sustain various injuries, including a skull fracture, a skin tear on his right forearm, and traumatic brain injury.

He remained hospitalized for 29 days, during which he experienced an episode of delirium and was referred to a specialist in geriatric medicine.

Before the incident, Mr Heng had received a pre-dementia diagnosis in March 2019 but was later found to have dementia with behavioral and psychological symptoms on 9 September 2021, after the incident with Cheng.

DPP Chu stated that the traumatic brain injury resulted in the deterioration of Mr. Heng’s pre-dementia state.

Regrettably, Mr Heng passed away on 11 April this year.

Cheng’s court defense

Defending Cheng, lawyer Dhillon Surinder Singh explained that his client did not intend to cause such harm but acted impulsively out of anger in response to provocation.

He requested a five-month prison term for Cheng, considering the incident was a spontaneous outburst rather than a calculated or premeditated attack.

District Judge Ronald Gwee, in delivering the sentence, emphasized that seemingly minor actions can lead to significant harm, and he added that situations like this cannot be resolved in the way that Cheng acted thus the overreaction in this case cannot be condoned at all.

The judge also underscored the importance of deterring such behavior to prevent similar incidents in the future.

For voluntarily causing hurt, Cheng could have faced a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment or a fine of up to S$10,000, or both.

Netizens reflect on 87-year-old cleaner’s employment

Furthermore, while responding to the tragic incident on social media platforms like Reddit and TODAY’s Facebook page, numerous netizens conveyed a mixture of compassion and astonishment upon realizing that an 87-year-old individual was still actively employed.

In a satirical tone, one netizen remarked that Singaporeans are “truly fortunate” since even at the age of 87, one can still secure a job.

Another individual remarked on the unfortunate situation where a person at the age of 87 has to continue working for their livelihood.

A netizen contemplating whether the act of pushing or the necessity for an 87-year-old individual to remain employed holds greater significance in terms of ethical considerations.

Elderly Singaporeans forced to work for survival

In April this year, another netizen took to Facebook to express his shock upon discovering another 86-year-old elderly person still working as a cleaner.

More than 20 years have passed since 1999 and many elderly Singaporeans continue to struggle everyday working to survive.

According to a Reuters’ report in 2019, many elderly Singaporeans look for jobs after retirement because the Singapore’s CPF retirement saving scheme does not provide enough money for them to survive.

“If I don’t work, where will my income come from?” said 71 year-old Mdm Mary Lim, one of many elderly cleaners earning a meager wage clearing up to 400 plates a day at a foodstall in Singapore’s Chinatown.

“If I stop my work, how will I survive?”

The Singapore government announced in the Budget 2023 that it will increase the minimum monthly payout for the Retirement Sum Scheme (RSS) from S$250 to S$350 starting 1 June 2023, as part of the effort to boost retirement adequacy.

However, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at National University of Singapore published a survey finding in 2019 that an older Singaporean above 65 years old would need S$1,379 a month to meet his or her basic needs.

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