Dec 17, 2013

    S'pore will continue to slow foreign-worker influx

    SINGAPORE will continue to limit the influx of overseas labourers after a riot involving about 400 foreign workers, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

    While foreign labour has contributed to the growth of the economy, there has been a cost, including a strain on infrastructure, he said in an interview on Friday.

    Police have charged 33 people in relation to the riot, the first in Singapore in more than four decades.

    "We are continuing to tighten our manpower policies because we do want to move to a leaner approach," said Mr Tan, 44.

    The nation has tightened rules for overseas manpower in the past four years, including introducing caps on the number that can be hired in some industries and raising levies.

    Mr Tan said that the Government is keen to boost the productivity of local companies.

    Asked if poor living conditions led to the riot and if the Government would step up measures to ensure foreign workers' well-being and safety, he pointed out that it is premature to conclude what are the reasons behind the riot.

    The riot that broke out on the night of Dec 8 in Little India, after a bus ran over and killed an Indian national, has reignited the debate about Singapore's dependence on foreign workers.

    Mr Tan said that a survey conducted in 2011 by the Government among work-permit holders showed that 90 per cent were "relatively happy" here, 80 per cent wanted to stay and about 70 per cent were happy to recommend friends and family to come to Singapore.

    "It was a fairly large sample size and that has pretty much been echoed by the feedback we've been getting," he said in the interview on Bloomberg Television. "In the aftermath of the riot, again we've pushed out to find out the sentiments and it's quite consistent."

    The authorities prosecuted five Chinese nationals and deported 29 others over their involvement in an illegal strike in November last year, an unusual public display of labour discord.

    The Manpower Ministry has had about 3,700 dispute cases over issues like salary and work conditions brought to it this year, Mr Tan said. There are around 1.1 million lower-skilled foreign workers in Singapore, according to the ministry.

    The nature of the rioters and where they are from don't indicate that labour relations contributed to the riot, he said.

    "I'm not denying that there are egregious cases, there are, I see them myself," he said. "But... I think, by and large, workers here are reasonably looked after, and we will go after employers that mistreat their workers."