Bangladeshi workers still needed here: Employers

Dormitory operators agree that if the foreign workers staying in their quarters are well integrated, it could prevent them from getting radicalised.
Dormitory operators agree that if the foreign workers staying in their quarters are well integrated, it could prevent them from getting radicalised.ST FILE PHOTO

While shocked by the news that 27 Bangladeshi construction workers who turned radical had been arrested here, employers said they would continue to hire workers from that country.

Some said they would do so because their options were limited, while others felt that the actions of a handful should not taint the whole group.

The Singapore Contractors Association, which represents construction firms, declined to comment on the impact of the arrests on the sector, saying the case is sensitive and the association did not have sufficient information.

But Ms Annie Gan, managing director of Jian Huang Construction, said workers from India and Bangladesh will continue to be needed in the sector because they do the hard labour that other workers shun.

"It cannot be that we stop hiring them because of just one case," she said. "What is important is that companies continue to look after the welfare of their workers so that they feel (that they are) a part of the company and Singapore."

Besides the construction sector, cleaning companies also hire Bangladeshi workers to clear therubbish bins in Housing Board estates.

"It is the only source of foreign workers approved for town council work, so we will continue to hire them unless there are other new approved sources," said Mr Milton Ng, managing director of Ramky Cleantech Services.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua said the episode showed that it is critical to assimilate these workers properly into the labour force, "regardless of the country of their origin".

Bangladesh High Commissioner Mahbub Uz Zaman said there were around 160,000 Bangladeshi workers in Singapore.

The spotlight also fell on how they lived here and interacted with one another. Dormitory operators agreed that if the workers staying in their quarters were well integrated, it could prevent them from getting radicalised.

Mr Mohamed Abdul Jaleel, the founder and chief executive of dormitory operator Mini Environment Service, said how dormitories are run can influence the behaviour of the workers who stay there.

"It is inevitable that those of the same nationalities will prefer to live together, but we make sure that they share common spaces like sports and recreation facilities," he said.

About 8,000, or one-third, of the 23,500 foreign workers who stay in the three dormitories that he runs are from Bangladesh.

"They get their own space for prayers, but they know that they are part of a larger community," he added.

He will be briefing his staff to monitor how the foreign workers react to the news of the arrests.

Mr Kelvin Teo, chief operating officer of Centurion Dormitories, said an operator's role in integrating the different nationalities of foreign workers extended beyond the dormitories.

"We have to bring them to the larger community," he said. "For example, we took a group of 100 workers to participate in The Straits Times Run last year."

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of foreign worker advocacy group Migrant Workers' Centre, urged employers and the public not to let the arrests taint their impression of foreign workers.

"The vast majority of foreign workers are law-abiding and hard-working," said Mr Yeo. "Let us not tar them with the same brush."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Bangladeshi workers still needed here: Employers'. Print Edition | Subscribe