SINGAPORE — Greater attention should be paid to the social needs of migrant workers, said groups and observers in the wake of Sunday’s riot in Little India. In particular, they felt that more could be done to understand the group dynamics of migrant workers, especially for newer arrivals.
Addressing a view held by some that more should be done to manage crowds in Little India, especially on Sundays, by spreading out the gathering points and making it an alcohol-free zone, migrant workers’ rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said “a more sustainable solution” should involve creating spaces that have amenities and providing shelter in all weather conditions.
“We need to be conscious of the fact that sometimes Singapore actively denies foreign workers use of public spaces, such as void decks. Moreover, with low pay, they can’t afford to spend their leisure time within commercial spaces,” said the group on its website yesterday. “All they are left with is a limited amount of public space, mostly five-foot ways. On dry days, they get the use of a few open fields. But currently with the wet season, the ground is too moist to sit on. So they crowd even more into the walkways. This can raise tempers.”
Dr Alan Chong, an Associate Professor at the Nanyang Technological University, added: “When we talk about industrial relations, we don’t just mean having unions any more (for work conditions). But it also means taking care of the non-work, hospitality needs of these workers.”
On Sunday, an angry mob of about 400 South Asian workers turned on police officers after 33-year-old Indian worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu was hit by a bus at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road.
While it was “hard to say definitively” if the riot was sparked off by an alcohol-fuelled crowd, the area’s Member of Parliament, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, said evidence of drinking could be observed during his visit to Race Course Road on Sunday night. He also noticed that beer bottles and caps were among the items used to damage vehicles in the riot.
Both TWC2, as well as migrant workers’ advocate Jolovan Wham, felt that other factors besides alcohol must be examined. Alcohol had been consumed for years in the area with no incidents on this scale, TWC2 said.
Meanwhile, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) called for an examination into the underlying causes of the riot. “To blame the riot, the first in decades, on alcohol consumption is a narrative that is convenient to the ruling party,” said NSP Secretary-General Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss in a statement.
“Are the labour laws and regulations which apply to them (migrant workers) fair or skewed against them? How are they assured of decent living conditions and of getting fair and timely wages? Are we giving enough consideration to their emotional and social needs?”
Dr Chong felt that the Committee of Inquiry to be convened to look into the riot should also look at how to manage areas where pockets of ethnic communities are active, besides examining how to address their social needs better. The Government could also tap the migrant workers rights’ groups more, as well as religious organisations, to understand these communities, he added.