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Law-abiding workers 'need not worry': Shanmugam

A notice pasted at the Avery Lodge foreign workers' dormitory advising workers to stay away from Little India. Some firms have told their workers to be back in their dorms earlier than usual on their days off. Last night, Mr Shanmugam sought to quell
A notice pasted at the Avery Lodge foreign workers' dormitory advising workers to stay away from Little India. Some firms have told their workers to be back in their dorms earlier than usual on their days off. Last night, Mr Shanmugam sought to quell fears raised by workers that their work permits might not be renewed.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Shanmugam assures Indian nationals at dialogue during dormitory visit

Foreign workers who abide by Singapore's laws need not worry that their jobs will be at stake.

But those who breach any rules will be dealt with firmly.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam told about 40 Indian national workers at a dialogue last night that Sunday's melee, which saw about 400 rioters turning on police and paramedics, had affected Singapore deeply.

But he wanted to quell any fears, raised by workers, that their work permits might not be renewed.

"If you were not involved in the incident, you don't have to be afraid. What objectives you had in mind when you came to Singapore, they will be fulfilled. I'll give you that assurance. Don't be afraid," he said during his visit to Kranji Lodge 1, a dormitory for foreign workers.

Mr Shanmugam told reporters before the 30-minute dialogue that the Government has "zero tolerance" for those who flout rules.

"We have to be extremely strict and enforce (this). That is the only way that everyone will understand and we can make sure that the place is safe and secure."

He was joined on the visit by Member of Parliament Vikram Nair, Nominated MP R. Dhinakaran, and unionists M. Ramasamy and G. Muthukumar.

Workers who spoke up said they were ashamed of last Sunday's show of violence and hoped that Singaporeans would not cast them in the same negative light as the rioters.

Indian national Ramadas Kuberan, 40, said the rioters could have turned aggressive after drinking but added that workers are on the whole happy to be in Singapore.

Construction and marine bosses told The Straits Times they do not foresee a repeat of Sunday's events as their workers are familiar with Singapore's laws and the consequences of breaking them.

But as a precaution, they have told their men to avoid Little India this weekend.

Notices telling workers to keep away from the neighbourhood on their days off have been put up on walls, trees and signboards at dormitories.

Singapore Contractors Association Limited (Scal) president Ho Nyok Yong, representing 2,800 construction firms, said: "We have told our members to get their workers to avoid gathering in Little India for now until the situation is more stable."

Construction firm Fonda Global Engineering director Melvin Ong explained: "You never know. A few men may get angry and others join in and the situation goes out of control. So better just to avoid the area."

Some firms such as Keppel Offshore & Marine have gone a step further to tell workers to be back in their dorms by 10pm, about two hours earlier than usual, until further notice.

Marine firm Kiat Seng Shipbuilding and Engineering director James Lee has set an even earlier daily curfew of around 9pm for his 100 foreign workers. He has also instructed his senior workers to take note of latecomers and report them to him.

Foreign workers said they would heed the advice to avoid Little India this Sunday.

Said Bangladeshi marine worker Akkash Delowar, 33: "My boss said there's a big problem in Little India, don't go for two to three months."

Many know of friends who were questioned by the police because they were in Little India last Sunday night even though they were not involved in the riot and do not want to be in the same situation.

Said shipyard foreman Weslin Raj, 35: "We are here to earn money for our family. If you find trouble, job gone. No more money. Why do I want to find trouble?"

ameltan@sph.com.sg

rachelay@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Bakar and Joanna Seow