MOM surveys show that most are happy working in Singapore: Manpower Minister
SINGAPORE — There is no basis to assert that foreign workers’ discontent with their employment situation here had caused the Dec 8 riot, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday.
In his ministerial statement on the incident, Mr Tan said while he looked forward to the perspective of the Committee of Inquiry on the matter, he found it “puzzling as to how some individuals can so quickly conclude or criticise that there is widespread and systemic abuse of the foreign workforce; or that these were the reasons for the riot”.
“In the same vein, some foreign media just echo these points, but offer only scant evidence for their assertions,” he said.
Responding to wide-ranging questions tabled by Members of Parliament (MPs) on the treatment and management of foreign workers here, including the measures taken to ensure they have adequate access to public amenities, Mr Tan reiterated the findings of a 2011 survey conducted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) that found an overwhelming majority of foreign workers expressing their satisfaction with the overall experience of working in Singapore and saying they wished to continue working here.
The MOM conducted another survey in November last year with departing foreign workers and the results were largely similar, the minister said.
Mr Tan said as at the end of November last year, there were about 1.1 million foreign workers here, excluding foreign domestic workers. About 700,000 were work permit holders.
From January to November last year, the MOM assisted about 7,000 foreign workers with difficulties, Mr Tan said, noting that this constituted a small proportion of work permit holders. Half of the cases were employment-related, covering issues such as salary and overtime claims.
“Are all foreign workers poorly treated here? While the situation is generally good, it is not perfect. There is always room for improvement,” said Mr Tan, stressing that his ministry will continue to take a strong stance against errant employers.
Citing the significant increase in the number of foreign workers here in recent years, Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng asked, among other things, whether the number should be capped. Ms Ng noted that it was “inevitable that labour issues will arise because of the sheer numbers of (foreign workers)”. Nominated MP R Dhinakaran also asked if the riot will have any material impact on foreign manpower policies.
In response, Mr Tan noted that the Government has begun to moderate the increase in the number of foreign workers to more sustainable levels and help businesses reduce their reliance on low-cost foreign labour. It will continue to do so in a targeted and adaptive manner, Mr Tan said. “This is something that we are already doing anyway … the riot will not have a material impact on our plans.”
He added that during visits to workers’ dormitories in the aftermath of the riot, “many foreign workers told us that they were ashamed by the conduct of those responsible”.
The Indian High Commissioner to Singapore also shared that “there was no discontent discerned among the Indian community of foreign workers” here, Mr Tan pointed out.
Addressing allegations of widespread and systemic abuse of the foreign workforce, Mr Tan said it was wrong to “portray Singapore, Singaporeans and our employers in this light because that is not how things are, nor who we are”.