There are two sides to the equation as far as relationships between foreign workers and Singaporeans are concerned, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) president Russell Heng told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India riot on Tuesday.
Dr Heng, who called the riot an "aberration", said locals who interact with foreign workers in Little India - such as shopkeepers, auxiliary police officers, bus drivers and conductors - should learn to better communicate with them, and that the police should be seen not just as the law but, as "sources of information".
"We want to see training and education to cover culture and language awareness, and an appreciation of the role foreign workers play in Singapore," said Dr Heng, who was testifying at the public hearing.
"We're not asking for language training, but (to use) key words in Tamil and Bengali, learning how to smile, communicate using simple English and sign language."
But when committee chairman G Pannir Selvam asked if it could be done "the other way round" - such as by teaching workers who come to Singapore the local languages and work skills, citing the work of another foreign-worker help group, Dr Heng replied: "But the other half of the equation is that law enforcement, shopkeepers and bus drivers need to understand the problems better, and communicate better."