Ambulance set ablaze. Photo: Straits Times

Ambulance set ablaze. Photo: Straits Times

Media Statement

For immediate release, 3 July 2014 

TWC2’s response to the COI Report on the Little India Riot

TWC2 wishes to make three points in response to the Report on the Little India Riot issued 30 June 2014 by the Committee of Inquiry (COI):

I) TWC2 appreciates that the COI’s recommendations on how to manage access to and congregation in Little India are measured. In its own words, “the COI does not think it possible (nor desirable) to eliminate the crowds there altogether”. More specifically, the Committee had recommended that “the general infrastructure available to the public at congregation areas (in Little India) should also be improved. These include simple amenities, such as toilets, rubbish bins, and sheltered walkways.”  This addresses a TWC2 concern in our February 2014 submission to the Committee that the approach should not be to reduce access to Little India but to improve on facilities in the area so that the greater numbers visiting on weekend need not be so disruptive.

II) TWC2’s February submission to the COI also highlighted the importance of communication and cultural awareness in fostering better relationship between workers and figures of authority. We pointed out that “the police/auxiliary police in the Little India area need to be able to communicate better with the workers”. TWC2 is pleased to note that the COI wishes to see staff who have to frequently interact with foreign workers – bus drivers, timekeepers, APOs, and even SPF officers – be given “some basic training in cultural sensitivity and an appreciation of the role that foreign workers play in Singapore. In particular, training which covers basic or key words in the workers’ native languages would go a long way towards fostering greater understanding and communication.”

III) TWC2 welcomes the COI’s recognition that even as Singapore has governance in place to address migrant workers’ grievances, more can be done on improving the welfare of migrant workers. Specifically, the COI states that “Singapore’s employment processes for foreign workers are robust,” and what has fallen short is a need to step up education of workers about their rights. The sum total of Singapore’s employment processes is a large subject that TWC2 grapples with every day and far more complex than a section in the COI Report can do it justice. TWC2 deems it necessary to clarify that while Singapore has a slate of laws to address the grievances of foreign workers, there are still areas where:

a)      a needed law does not exist and the state resists enacting;

b)      there is poorly conceived law with muddled wording;

c)      an insurmountable burden of proof is needed; and

d)     clear laws exist but are not enforced

For details and examples of the above shortcomings in governance, please refer to an article prepared by TWC2 Vice-President Alex Au and posted on our website:

This listing of systemic weaknesses is not exhaustive because the totality of the problems cannot be dealt with in one issued statement. In a nutshell, while TWC2 welcomes the COI’s recommendation that more can and should be done to inform foreign workers of their rights, just having workers know their rights is insufficient if those rights are not fully enforced by the authorities. TWC2 believes that the way forward must include a re-examination of the way present laws, regulations and administrative processes fall short in ensuring the safety and welfare of migrant workers who are essential to so many aspects of life in Singapore.

Russell Heng, TWC2 President.