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Singapore announces plan to manage foreign workers

Singapore today spelt out a two-pronged approach to manage foreign workers that included reducing the reliance on low-cost labour to avoid a situation like the December 8 riot involving migrant workers from South Asia. Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin gave the governments response in Parliament today to the state-appointed Committee of Inquiry`s (COI) recently-released report on the Little India riot, Singapore`s worst street violence in 40 years.

PTI| Updated: Jul 07, 2014, 16:26 PM IST

Singapore: Singapore today spelt out a two-pronged approach to manage foreign workers that included reducing the reliance on low-cost labour to avoid a situation like the December 8 riot involving migrant workers from South Asia.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin gave the government?s response in Parliament today to the state-appointed Committee of Inquiry`s (COI) recently-released report on the Little India riot, Singapore`s worst street violence in 40 years.

Responding to the report, Tan announced two-pronged approach on the management of the foreign workforce: Raising the profile of workers here by helping companies reduce their reliance on low-cost labour, and improving the workers` accommodation and recreation facilities.

The report, released June 30, after a month-long probe into the riot involving migrant workers from South Asia.

The street violence left 54 police and defence officers injured and 23 emergency vehicles damaged.

Tan highlighted the fact that the foreign worker growth rate dropped from 9.4 per cent in 2011 to 4.6 per cent in 2012, and halved again to just 2.3 per cent last year.

This was due to tightening measures, with most sectors having to adopt a high-productivity, manpower-lean approach, he told Parliament.

"Even as we undertake to more effectively manage the foreign workers in our midst, the broader lesson is that growth in foreign worker numbers cannot go unabated.

"In line with the recommendations made by the Economic Strategies Committee in 2010, we have begun to moderate the growth of foreign workers to more sustainable levels, with a greater emphasis on productivity improvements," said Tan.

"We have also taken deliberate and progressive steps to raise the quality profile of our foreign workforce and help businesses reduce their reliance on low-cost foreign labour," he said.

"The Government has introduced the SGD 5.9 billion Quality Growth Programme in Budget 2013 to help our businesses and industries make this transition," said the Minister.

Tan said the recommendation to make more services and amenities available to foreign workers outside of congregation areas such as Little India is already in process.

"This is something that we are already doing, and intend to step up on. Providing for the needs of foreign workers requires strong inter-agency coordination overseen by an inter-ministerial committee, covering issues like housing, transport and security," said Tan.

The Minister said efforts are being made to speed up the construction of "self-contained" dormitories with in-built amenities and recreational facilities, such as mini-marts, gyms, canteens and TV rooms.

The aim is to reduce the workers` need to travel to established congregation areas for basic services.

Tan said: "MOM (Ministry of Manpower) will be establishing a regulatory framework for large dormitories that have a larger impact on their surrounding communities. I am pleased to note that from our engagements with industry, the operators are on board with us on this."

More dedicated recreation centres for foreign workers, beyond the existing four in Soon Lee, Kaki Bukit, Woodlands and Penjuru industrial estates, will be established, Tan told Parliament.

Such centres provide a wider range of amenities that individual dormitories may not be able to, such as remittance and banking services, supermarkets and sports facilities, he pointed out.

Tan added that his ministry is planning to create more targeted and easy-to-understand materials for foreign workers to grasp key messages.

Likewise, the MOM will work with more partners, such as student volunteers, who have expressed an interest in befriending foreign worker groups.

"The Government will continue to manage such shared spaces (with foreign workers), as well as manage the overall numbers to minimise impact on local communities," said the Manpower Minister.

The COI report identified three factors contributing to the Little India riot of December 8 last year.

These were the misunderstandings about the accident and response; the culture and psychology of the crowd; and alcohol and intoxication.

The COI also made recommendations on emergency response procedures, foreign worker congregations and restrictions on alcohol.

Leading the government response in parliament, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said the government has accepted COI recommendations in the report.

Among others, more security and safety measures will be added to the Little India area including police cameras and street lighting.

The Little India precinct includes a wide range of Indian origin-businesses, shops, eateries, pubs and motels popular among South Asian migrant workers during weekend and on their day off.

The riot, amidst a gathering of some 400?South Asian migrant workers,?broke out following the death of an Indian national working in Singapore on the night of December 8, allegedly due to an accident with a bus.