The Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the riot which broke out in Little India on December 8 last year has stated worker concerns over living conditions and job dissatisfaction was not a cause of the incident.
In it’s report released late yesterday it said the riots – which resulted in 62 injuries, 54 of which were officers and eight of which were civilians – were caused by a fatal accident on Race Course Road, which triggered a desire for “street justice” after there were misconceptions about the accident. It also stated alcohol as being a cause.
Over the months following the incident, numerous suggestions have been raised that the migrant workers involved in the riots were unhappy with their poor employment and living conditions.
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The report states nearly every foreign worker spoken to by the COI – including those involved in the riot – stated they were “happy with their jobs and living quarters in Singapore, consistently rating Singapore as ‘number one’ among countries who receive migrant labour.”
“The country’s cleanliness, safety, lawfulness, modernity, and opportunities for self improvement were among the reasons why these workers chose Singapore as their preferred destination for work. Many of the foreign workers the COI spoke to had worked in Singapore for several years, for several companies, by choice,” the report stated.
“Based on the evidence gathered, the COI does not think that the riot was a result of dissatisfaction among foreign workers with their employment and living conditions in Singapore. As stated earlier, the primary or triggering cause of the riot was an emotional outburst caused by the death of one of their fellow workers, exacerbated by misperceptions, the consumption of alcohol, and the cultural and psychological elements discussed above.
“The COI’s finding is that labour issues were not involved either proximately or remotely.”
However, despite this finding, the COI did say there is room for improvement for the treatment of foreign workers in Singapore. The most common problems it stated are:
High foreign employment agency fees
One of the difficulties faced by many foreign workers is the high cost of engaging employment agents in their home countries. Such costs often put the workers into heavy debt.
“The COI hopes that something can be done, perhaps on a bilateral basis, to improve this situation for foreign workers. It is also incumbent on employment agencies to be ethical when selecting foreign agencies to partner.”
Lack of education on employment processes
Some workers remain unsure about their rights in Singapore and the employment process when making claims such as for salary or injuries.
“If the recourse provided by Singapore’s laws is to be realised for these workers, it is essential that they are educated on specific processes, especially for claims against their employers.”
Lack of sensitivity by employers
The COI said there are still a number of errant employers who fail to provide comfortable living quarters, and who also tread the line between being strict and flexible. This poor treatment also often extends to those who interact with the migrant workers on a daily basis.
“The COI suggests that staff who have to frequently interact with foreign workers – bus drivers, timekeepers, APOs, and even SPF officers – should be given some basic training in cultural sensitivity and an appreciation of the role that foreign workers play in Singapore.”