Statement to Media on Little India Riot

The Singapore government has implemented several measures to avoid a repeat of the violence of last Sunday’s riotImage. Alcohol sale was banned this weekend and private buses from dormitories to Little India have been temporarily suspended. Little India has been declared a “proclaimed area” under the Public Order (Preservation) Act, which will allow police officers to take action against anyone consuming alcohol in a public place within the vicinity, including seizing their bottles of liquor.

The Singapore Contractors Association of Singapore has urged its members to discourage their workers from going to Little India until the situation is ‘more stable’. Some firms such as Keppel Offshore & Marine have enforced curfews, stipulating that workers are to be back in their dormitories by 10pm. Marine firm Kiat Seng Shipbuilding and Engineering director James Lee has set a daily curfew of around 9pm for his 100 foreign workers. Latecomers will be reported to his management.

While we understand the need to implement measures to stabilise the situation, we urge the authorities and employers to exercise restraint so that the migrant worker community is not unjustly targeted. Advising workers to stay away from Little India and imposing curfews on those who do not return to their dormitories penalises the majority for the actions of a minority. We urge employers and the authorities to review this policy. It is our view that blaming the riot on alcohol consumption may be premature since investigations have not established it as a cause. It also reinforces the stereotype of ethnic Indian drunkards who create trouble and get into fights.

The suspension of private bus services by the LTA from dormitories to Little India is ineffective as workers can still take public transport to the area. It may just end up causing further strain to the system. This measure also unfairly targets the majority of foreign workers who frequent it. We are also concerned about the loss of income for the local and migrant bus drivers who operate these private buses.

An increase in surveillance of the community, if not handled sensitively, may lead to further tensions between workers and the auxillary police who patrol Little India. Complaints have been received by migrant worker groups that some officers are rude and disrespectful, with migrant workers sometimes scolded, chased away or fined large sums of money for minor infringements without adequate warning or evidence.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remark to speed up the construction of dormitories underlies the failure of our immigration policy: sufficient decent accommodation should have been ensured before allowing large numbers of migrant workers in the country. Our failure to do so has led to many of them enduring sub standard living conditions, which migrant rights groups have highlighted on many occasions.

Even though the Ministry of Manpower dealt with 3700 complaints this year, it has to be noted that the number of complaints is not indicative of whether workers in Singapore are exploited or not. Many workers choose to work and live under oppressive conditions for fear of losing their jobs should they report to the authorities. For migrant workers, this is exacerbated by huge recruitment debts and the inflexible work pass system which disallows them from switching jobs.

Last Sunday’s riot has also led to discussions on the exploitation of migrant workers in Singapore. We urge the government to review its policies on immigration and migrant labour and address the systemic discrimination and abuse of these workers.

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Categories: Little India Riot

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