Ambulance set ablaze. Photo: Straits Times

Ambulance set ablaze. Photo: Straits Times

The Committee of Inquiry on the Little India Riot made its Report public on 30 June 2014. Much of the report deals with the particulars of the incident (that occurred after 9pm on 8 December 2013) which do not have much relation to the work and mission of TWC2. However, TWC2 made a submission to the COI touching on the overall treatment and experiences of migrant workers in Singapore, and the report addresses these issues in some detail from page 69 on.

Notably, the COI pointed out the workers were made vulnerable by being in debt after having paid high agent fees:

One of the difficulties faced by foreign workers is the high cost of engaging employment agents in their home countries. Such costs often put the workers into heavy debt for significant periods of time. MOM regulates the fees charged by employment agents in Singapore, but is not able to do the same with agents registered overseas. However, the COI believes that something can be done, perhaps on a bilateral basis to improve this situation for foreign workers. [Para 234].

It also pointed out that whilst

… workers who submit salary or workplace injury claims cannot be repatriated by their employers while their claims are pending. However witnesses who work in NGOs that help foreign workers reported that some workers were still reluctant to report worksite injuries — sometimes putting it off by months — because they thought that they had to do so through employers, and were afraid of being repatriated as a result of their complaint. [para 237].

Indeed, such fears are widespread, as reported in many articles on this site.

The Report also says:

The COI suggests that more effort be made to fully educate foreign workers not just on their general rights and protections, but also on specific employment processes. Singapore’s employment processes for foreign workers are robust, and workers must be well-educated on what the processes entail and how to take advantage of them. [para 236].

This seems to suggest that on the regulatory front, all is while, and that it is ignorance on the part of workers that lies at the root of their troubles. In TWC’s view, this misses the mark by a wide margin. While indeed informing workers of their rights is important, it is not all assured that when they approach authorities for action, the authorities will adequately enforce them. Many articles on this site detail the multiple ways in the the State’s processes prove inadequate.

TWC2 issued a media statement in relation to the COI report.