Little India Riot: Survey by MOM, MWC shows foreign worker satisfaction levels remain high

Foreign workers relaxing over liquor at a beer garden in Little India on 22 December 2013. The root cause of the Dec 8 riot in Little India was not foreign workers' systemic dissatisfaction with employment and living conditions here - and prelim
Foreign workers relaxing over liquor at a beer garden in Little India on 22 December 2013. The root cause of the Dec 8 riot in Little India was not foreign workers' systemic dissatisfaction with employment and living conditions here - and preliminary findings of a new survey of such workers here this year is evidence of this. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The root cause of the Dec 8 riot in Little India was not foreign workers' systemic dissatisfaction with employment and living conditions here - and preliminary findings of a new survey of such workers here this year is evidence of this.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said this in Parliament on Monday in response to findings released last week by the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India Riot. "The COI has rightly pointed out that the riot was a unique event, perpetuated by individuals who were not representative of the majority of responsible and law-abiding foreign workers. The COI's findings have made clear that negative generalisations about the foreign workforce have no place in our society," he said.

This, he added, was supported by the preliminary results of a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) after the riot broke out.

The survey of 4,000 workers started this March and is slated to wrap up in July or August. But interim findings based on surveys with nearly 930 Work Permit holders, mainly Bangladesh, China and India nationals working in the construction, marine or process sector, show that their overall satisfaction levels remain high, comparable to the first such survey conducted in 2011.

More than 90 per cent of foreign workers here said they were satisfied, or very satisfied, to work in Singapore, the new survey found. Just 2.3 per cent said they were dissatisfied or very disatisfied, and about 92 per cent of the respondents plan to continue working here even after their current employment stint.

Some 80 per cent of those surveyed also said they would recommend Singapore to their friends and relatives as a place to work, citing reasons like good pay - the top pick - and working and living conditions. And on top of these survey findings, said Mr Tan, over 70 per cent of foreign workers renew their contracts after the first two years

"Taken together, these pieces of evidence suggest that the majority of foreigners continue to consider Singapore an attractive place to work," said Mr Tan.

"Ultimately, what the workers themselves say and do matters. The COI report puts to rest the more speculative causes for the riot that were offered by some critics, and that were echoed blindly by some sections of the foreign media."

But while the COI report acknowledged that there was no systemic mistreatment of foreign workers here, it pointed out that improvements can still be made.

MOM will look at ways to further improve the wellbeing of workers here by setting aside more recreational spaces and building more dormitories, as well as by better educating foreign workers on their rights here and the local customs, among others.

And even as Singapore works to manage foreign workers here more effectively, said Mr Tan, it must recognise that the growth in foreign worker numbers cannot go unchecked.

In line with recommendations made by the Economic Strategies Committee in 2010, said Mr Tan, the Government has begun to moderate the growth of foreign workers to more sustainable levels.

Foreign worker growth, excluding construction and domestic workers, has been on the decline in recent years: dropping from 9.4 per cent in 2011 to just 2.3 percent in 2013, he said.

"I believe that Singaporeans genuinely appreciate the contributions of these workers and wish to co-exist harmoniously with them," said Mr Tan. "On our part, the government will continue to manage such shared spaces, as well as manage the overall numbers to minimise impact on local communities."