News / Asia

Rare Singapore Riot Forces Soul Searching over Foreign Workers

The burnt shells of vehicles are pictured along Race Course Road following a riot near Singapore's Little India district, Dec. 9, 2013.
The burnt shells of vehicles are pictured along Race Course Road following a riot near Singapore's Little India district, Dec. 9, 2013.
Reuters
Singapore's first major riot in four decades is forcing the wealthy island to confront a stubborn but vexing question: how to treat low-paid foreign workers whose muscle underpins much of the economy but whose presence increasingly riles its citizens.<br />  <br /> Images of rioters overturning police cars, throwing garbage bins and burning an ambulance in Singapore's Little India on Sunday night shocked the orderly Southeast Asian nation and stirred debate over whether foreign workers should be better integrated or see their numbers reduced.<br />  <br /> “This is just a tip of the iceberg,” said Gayathiri, 30, an engineer who lives near the scene of the riots and goes by one name. “I hope the government will take it as a wake-up call. We need foreigners to boost our economy, but not at the expense of our security,” she added, echoing a widely held sentiment.<br />  <br /> Police charged 24 Indian nationals with rioting, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years' prison and caning. They were among an estimated 400 people who rampaged after a private bus fatally struck construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33. The number of arrests could rise.<br />  <br /> The government has urged people not to jump to conclusions, but nonetheless many Singaporeans blame an overabundance of migrant workers and could use the riots to intensify a push for tighter immigration curbs - a step that could hurt the economy.<br />  <br /> The dominant People's Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore for more than half a century, was already facing pressure over Singapore's high cost of living and its reliance on foreign workers on the island of nearly 5.4 million people.<br />  <br /> Founded by Lee Kuan Yew, the father of the current prime minister, the PAP is credited with transforming Singapore from a colonial outpost in the 1960s into a global financial hub with world-class infrastructure, safe streets, an efficient civil service and the world's highest concentration of millionaires.<br />  <br /> Part of that success is built on cheap foreign labor, which makes up nearly 20 percent of the population. Many Singaporeans have expressed concerns over a government proposal on Jan. 29 to raise the population to 6.9 million by 2030.<br />  <br /> Of that, up to 36 percent, or 2.5 million, would be made up of foreign workers to balance a low birth rate and sustain economic growth.<br />  <br /> <strong>Jobs the Locals Shun</strong><br />  <br /> Many of the current 1.3 million foreign workers do low-paid jobs shunned by locals, such as construction and domestic work.<br />  <br /> Jobs in the construction industry, for instance, are dominated by male workers from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who earn a basic monthly salary of between S$460 ($370) and S$700, according to a campaign group, Transient Workers Count Too.<br />  <br /> That compares with the average Singaporean monthly wage of about S$4,433.<br />  <br /> Employers must pay a government-imposed levy on each foreign worker they wish to hire, with a higher levy for lower-paid workers to regulate their numbers. Authorities could tighten that measure to slow the influx of foreign workers.<br />  <br /> “The latest incident may further increase pressures to reduce Singapore's dependence on foreign workers,” said Chua Hak Bin, a Singapore-based economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Construction as a segment is already seeing some of the steepest levy hikes and tightening in quotas.”<br />  <br /> Others, however, argue that policymakers should focus more on the workers' welfare and integration.<br />  <br /> Many foreign workers live in crowded dormitory compounds, some housing up to 8,000 people, on the fringes of the island.<br />  <br /> “There is no policy for promoting integration. It is a separatist policy,” said Bridget Tan, the founder and chief executive of the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics in Singapore.<br />  <br /> In their scarce free time, many gather in Little India, an area of narrow streets and rows of shop-houses selling colorful fabrics, spices and groceries, a legacy of the 19th-century British colonial rulers who laid out the city in ethnic zones.<br />  <br /> Indians and Bangladeshis have congregated peacefully in large crowds in the area for years, eating, drinking, and illustrating decades of success in maintaining religious harmony in a polyglot community of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians that was convulsed by race riots in the late 1960s.<br />  <br /> Authorities banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area this weekend. Police stepped up patrols at foreign worker dormitories and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set up an inquiry. However, some commentators say a deeper change of mind-set needs to take place.<br />  <br /> “We seem to operate on a model of wanting the foreign workforce for their labor and economic value, yet wishing they would disappear at all other times,” blogger Alex Au wrote.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More