Responding to the Committee of Inquiry’s (COI) recently-released report on the Little India riot in Parliament today (7 Jul), Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin spoke about the need to manage the number of foreign workers in Singapore.

He said that even the government undertakes to more effectively manage the foreign workers in our midst, the broader lesson is that growth in foreign worker numbers cannot go unabated.

“In line with the recommendations made by the Economic Strategies Committee in 2010, we have begun to moderate the growth of foreign workers to more sustainable levels, with a greater emphasis on productivity improvements,” Mr Tan said.

“We have also taken deliberate and progressive steps to raise the quality profile of our foreign workforce and help businesses reduce their reliance on low-cost foreign labour. This is a painful but necessary adjustment we are making to restructure our economy towards.”

He added that the government has introduced the $5.9 billion Quality Growth Programme in Budget 2013 to help businesses and industries make the transition.

The foreign workforce tightening measures have slowed down foreigner growth significantly, Mr Tan noted.

Excluding construction and domestic workers, FW growth rate was halved from 9.4% in 2011 to 4.6% in 2012, and halved again to just 2.3% in 2013.

“For construction, manpower has grown over the past few years to support the ramp up of construction projects, including essential transportation, housing and healthcare infrastructure for Singaporeans. We will continue to build in the coming years, but in a more manpower-lean manner, with many construction productivity measures being introduced,” he said.

Mr Tan was also glad that the COI has established that the underlying cause of the 8 Dec riot was not systemic dissatisfaction with employment and living conditions in Singapore among foreign workers. In the last few years, he said that MOM has enacted a series of legislative changes to the Employment Act, the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and the Employment Agencies Act to better protect workers.

While the COI has found no evidence of systemic mistreatment of foreign workers, it has pointed out that there might nonetheless be a minority of errant employers who mistreat their workers.

“I’ve stated this before in this house: mistreatment does exist. In an earlier statement in Parliament I’ve also cited the number of egregious cases. While any case should not be tolerated, numbers are exceedingly small,” Mr Tan assured.

“My Ministry treats feedback on mistreatment of workers, whether local or foreign, very seriously, and will investigate such employers. If there is clear evidence that any employers or any other persons have breached the law, we will not hesitate to take the necessary enforcement action. I might add that workers who provide false information – and that occurs as well – must also be held accountable.”

Mr Tan also revealed that efforts are on-going to speed up the construction of self-contained dormitories which, beyond providing adequate living space, have in-built amenities and recreational facilities to take care of the daily basic living needs of workers.

“Over time, we aim for more workers to be accommodated in such self-contained housing facilities which will reduce their need to travel far for basic services,” he explained.

In addition, he also said that more dedicated recreation centres for foreign workers will be established. These centres will provide a wide range of amenities that individual dormitories may not be able to, such as remittance and banking services, supermarkets and sports facilities. The workers are not expected to go far to get access to these services.

Mr Tan concluded his speech by emphasizing that the Little India riot was 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.

“On our part, the government will continue to nurture and manage such shared spaces; as well as manage the overall numbers to minimise impact on local communities.”

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