Little India Riot COI: MOM officer says foreign workers are taken care of in Singapore

Aftermath of the Little India Riots on Dec 8, 2013. Employers are responsible for housing and feeding their workers, even if they have cancelled their work permits, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) representative told the Committee of Inquiry into t
Aftermath of the Little India Riots on Dec 8, 2013. Employers are responsible for housing and feeding their workers, even if they have cancelled their work permits, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) representative told the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 riot on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Employers are responsible for housing and feeding their workers, even if they have cancelled their work permits, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) representative told the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 riot on Tuesday.

When the employer refuses or is unable to take care of these needs, the government will then step in to do so together with the assistance of help groups, said Mr Kevin Teoh, MOM's divisional director for Foreign Manpower Management.

The issue of whether Singapore has a problem of "abandoned" workers dominated proceedings on Tuesday morning, as the committee repeatedly questioned Mr Teoh based on evidence given by workers' rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) president Russell Heng earlier that it was feeding about 200 to 300 destitute workers every day at its soup kitchen.

"We have not come across workers sleeping on the street," said Mr Teoh, adding that all workers who lodged complaints at MOM are asked if they needed assistance with food and shelter. "Sir, like you, I was equally surprised that he (Mr Heng) made the assertion here."

He added: "We received 650 complaints from the NGOs last year, and we look at every single one of them. With respect to TWC2's assertion that there are abandoned workers and nothing is being done, we are now checking with him, specifically which are the workers he's referring to."

Mr Teoh told the committee that workers are typically put on special pass for three reasons: when they are injured and unable to work, when they run away from their employment, and when they are prosecution witnesses for sham or shell companies that bring them into Singapore deceptively.

With injury cases, the worker need time to stabilise before the medical board can determine if the injury is permanent and he is entitled to compensation, said Mr Teoh. If the worker runs away, his work pass is then cancelled and an investigation - that can take months - is opened, while in the final case they are needed to assist in prosecuting the errant companies.

"Maybe TWC2 doesn't fully understand the process that the government and MOM has to take to bring (the cases) to a good conclusion," said Mr Teoh.