The New Year’s Day drunken brawl between large numbers of South Korean and Thai workers at two construction sites has come as an unwelcome reminder bout the undesirability of having too many foreign workers on our soil.

It was not the first time fights had broken out among them. But it was the most severe, and an incident of a type that Singapore must work to prevent.

As a result, one of the workers is on the critical list. Six others were injured. Police have called in the CID’s Special Investigation Section to try find out who started the incidents.

The two embassies were wise to move in quickly; they immediately issued warnings to their workers of the consequences of getting into fights.

In September 1983, a group of South Korean workers fought with some Malaysians at a shopping complex. They only stopped fighting when a policeman fired a warning shot.

And in March last year, police managed to stop a fight between 80 South Korean workers from spreading at a hotel in Upper East Coast Road.

Singapore’s building industry is dependent on foreigne workers. That is unfortunate for the Republic.

They make up 80 per cent of our construction workers. Theirs is a demanding job. Most come here for the money. They work and live in a harsh, frustrating environment devoid of family warmth for a long period of time.

Under the circumstances, it is taxing even for the toughest of men. It is vital that their embassies and the companies that employ them do enough social work among them to ensure that pent-up emotions do not explode into violence.

When workers from different languages and background work and live together under these tough conditions, there are bound to be occasions for misunderstanding.

Social gatherings cannot be organised too frequently; these men are here to do a job. But they should be organised whenever there is an opportunity.

Where deemed necessary, joint friendship and social committees should be established with the help – and under the watchful eyes – of their embassies.

If it cannot be done because of language or other difficulties, there may be good reasons to keep the workers as segregated as possible.

What hs happened is water under the bridge. It is good to be assured by Korean diplomats that the Koreaan workers are remorseful.

It is hoped that the Thai workers see the wretched affair in the same light.

To be understanding about human frailties is one thing. We can be more forgiving if we believe that most of the participants were good people acting out of turn in a moment of irrationality or drunkenness.

There should, however, be no feeling of regret about punishing the ringleaders when they are sorted out. To allow them to carry on as if nothing has happened is dangerous to Singapore. We are glad that the authorities, especially the embassies, are being firm in this.

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