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Singapore – Riot raises questions about dependence on overseas labour

11 December 2013

Following the death of an Indian worker in Singapore hundreds of workers, mostly Indian nationals, rioted on Sunday, leaving many to call into question the sustainability of Singapore’s reliance on foreign labour.

Approximately 400 foreign workers took to the streets, throwing railings at police, and setting fire to police cars and an ambulance after a 33 year-old man was hit and killed by a bus. Rioting in Singapore in punishable by up to seven years in prison plus a caning.

Commenting on Facebook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged people not to react negatively towards migrant workers in Singapore. He wrote: “They contribute to our economy, working hard to earn a living and support their families back home. We must not let this bad incident tarnish our views of workers here. Nor should be condone hateful or xenophobic comments, especially online.”

According to research from Staffing Industry Analysts, of Singapore’s population of 5.31 million, more than a quarter (1.49 million) are non-residents; made up of temporary workers (e.g. those on employment passes or work permits), dependents, and long-term social visit passes. 

In recent months Singapore has been attempting to move away from its high dependence on foreign workers. In September, the Ministry of Manpower announced that companies, with more than 25 members of staff, will be required to advertise job vacancies to local residents for two weeks before they can apply to fill positions with foreign candidates from next August.

Following the violence, 24 Indian citizens have been remanded into police custody for one week to allow for further investigation.

Teo Chee Hean, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, said in comments posted on his ministry's website that police have increased their presence in foreign worker dormitories and places where foreign workers congregate so that life can go on as normally as possible and everyone has a feeling of security.

The events leading up to the riot were unrelated to the labour market, however, many Singaporeans are now questioning the socioeconomic impact and sustainability of their country’s dependence of overseas labour. 


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