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    Jan 21, 2014

    Little India riot not caused by mistreatment

    FOREIGN workers here are, by and large, treated well and there is no basis for saying that mistreatment was a reason for the riot in Little India on Dec 8, said Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament yesterday.

    From January to November last year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) helped some 7,000 foreign workers with difficulties - about half of these cases were employment-related, covering issues like salary and overtime claims.

    That figure, said Mr Tan in his ministerial statement, represents less than 1 per cent of foreign work-permit holders.

    As for the 640 cases of mistreatment referred to the ministry by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) last year, these made up less than 0.1 per cent of work-permit holders here, he said, in response to questions posed by several Members of Parliament who, in the wake of the Little India riot, asked how foreign workers were treated here.

    The minister also said 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 and that these were the reasons for the riot".

    He also stressed that some foreign media outlets which echoed these points offer "only scant evidence for their assertions".

    Last Tuesday, the Ministry of Communications and Information released a letter written by Ambassador to the United States Ashok Mirpuri to The New York Times. It then criticised the paper in a statement.

    The paper had published an editorial headlined "Singapore's angry migrant workers", which linked the riot to foreign workers' frustration over wages and living conditions.

    Referring to the Committee of Inquiry (COI) set up to investigate the causes of the riot, Mr Tan said: "We do not think there is basis for these assertions, but we do look forward to the COI's perspective on the matter."

    Meanwhile, MOM will continue to take a "strong enforcement stance" against errant employers and regularly review laws which protect the workers, he added.

    It was also announced that the Government will build more recreation centres for foreign workers, which have amenities such as remittance services, supermarkets and sports facilities. There are currently four such centres here.

    But while these are alternative options, they can never totally replace popular spots like Little India, which "have naturally evolved over time to cater to foreign workers' physical and, importantly, emotional needs", Mr Tan said.

    "Foreign workers need a place to come together to catch up with old friends, on news from the village, have a taste of food from home, and meet friends and relatives from across the island for the few precious hours that they have," he said. "This is really not that different from any Singaporean looking to relax and hang out with friends after a hard week at work."