Over the past two days Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, K Shanmugam, has been making special visits to a handful of dormitories to speak to some foreign workers who hail from Tamil Nadu, India, to supposedly allay their fears regarding possible repercussion with regard to their employment status and length of stay here in Singapore.
While this might be seen as an empathetic move to address the concerns of the migrant community, it contradicts with how many of these workers were treated soon after Sunday’s incident at Little India, randomly being interviewed regardless of their actual involvement.
In addition, it seems rather disingenuous to, on the one hand, project such publicised concern for their well being while on the other, have a general disregard for their basic needs. It has been established by those who work on improving the welfare of migrant workers that foreign workers are typically subjected to long working hours in return for depressed wages, and contend with poor living conditions on a daily basis, so it does not seem in their best interests to fix a dialogue session at night which is probably the only time they have to rest and unwind.
It is perplexing that the minister or his staff did not consider arranging a visit to a few selected construction sites during the day instead where work could have been temporarily halted for an hour or less to address this subset of workers.
It is also hard to envision holding a dialogue session under the watchful eyes of reporters and their employers, and getting any other response than unilateral agreement, and that is what transpired at Wednesday night’s session involving 40 Tamil workers from India who were reportedly worried about their future in Singapore and current work status but unsurprisingly did not raise any grievances.
With the issue of foreign workers’ poor treatment and remuneration – among other things – coming to the fore in light of the riot that erupted on Sunday night, it is in poor taste to compel (be it explicitly or implicitly) such migrant workers to give up part of their free time just so that positive news reports on the follow-up action can be reported by the press.