In response to member of parliament Denise Phua’s call on the government to fence off residents’ areas from foreign workers and do more to disperse them from Little India (see News Flash), TWC2 executive committee member Debbie Fordyce wrote to the Straits Times. Her letter was published 11 April 2016:
Provide more public spaces for foreign workers
Viewing gatherings of transient workers as public disorder incidents waiting to happen and suggesting ring-fencing communal areas promote unsubstantiated and unconstructive prejudices towards Singapore’s transient workers (“MP says sorry for remarks about foreign workers”; last Saturday, and “Security measures are reviewed at hot spots”; last Thursday).
While improving the amenities and facilities of dormitories purpose-built for transient workers is encouraged, this should be done in order to improve the living conditions in dormitories, rather than to prevent workers from moving freely within Singapore.
We should also bear in mind that improvements to housing can reduce a worker’s salary through deductions to pay for these improvements.
Wherever workers live, South Asian low-wage workers are drawn to areas around Little India during their free time.
They make use of the services and amenities there, such as remittance houses, temples and mosques, and shops and restaurants that cater to their needs.
Equally important is their desire to spend free time away from the dormitory and to meet friends, socialise, relax and share news of family and community.
Rather than restricting these men and ring-fencing them from areas where they come in contact with Singapore residents, we should consider the importance of their having regular contact with friends and countrymen, and avoid suggestions that foreign workers are an underclass to be excluded from certain public areas.
Workers are largely aware of residents’ need for security in and around their homes, and prefer to gather in open areas away from residential spaces.
Rather than placing physical restrictions, a more progressive option would be to provide more public space with seating and shade in areas that South Asian men naturally congregate.
This will contribute to a vibrant community and healthy social interaction.
Deborah D. Fordyce (Ms)
Transient Workers Count Too