This was revealed by MOM Minister, Tan Chuan Jin, in Parliament on Monday.
It is unclear why the government wants to prevent such “large congregations” but the minister said that more “dedicated gathering spaces” for foreign workers will be launched in the future.
These moves come after the riot in Little India in December last year where a reported “400” workers were said to be involved. Some 26 workers are being charged for the incident while 57 others have been repatriated.
Mr Tan also said that the government recognises the need to build more dormitories for the workers, and there will be more such accommodation built in the next 2 to 3 years, a point made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month.
These self-contained, purpose-built dormitories will have facilities such as gyms, canteens, television rooms and computer access.
Nonetheless, the minister said that places like Little India have “naturally evolved over time to cater to foreign workers’ physical and, importantly, their emotional needs”, and that alternative recreation spots specially catered for foreign workers will never totally replace such organic shared spaces.
Mr Tan said, “Foreign workers need a place to come together, to gather, to catch up with old friends, catch up on news from the village, have a taste of food from home, meet friends, relatives from across the island for the few precious hours that they have.”
Dismissing suggestions that the riot in December could have been caused by the workers’ unhappiness over “widespread abuse”, Mr Tan said there was “no basis” for such a suggestion.
Foreign workers here are, generally, treated well by their employers, Mr Tan told the House in his ministerial statement on the riot. He said that the problems and complaints by foreign workers make up a very small fraction of the 700,000 work permit holders here.
Some non-governmental organisations and commentators have pointed the finger at such possible abuse of the workers as a potential spark for the riot. While Mr Tan dismissed these suggestions, he said he looked forward to the Committee of Inquiry’s (COI) perspective on the matter.
The 4-member COI was appointed by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on 13 December to investigate the cause of the riot. It is being headed by former Supreme Court Judge, G Pannir Selvam.
Mr Tan said that surveys conducted by the government showed that the “vast majority of foreign workers are satisfied with their overall experience working in Singapore and find the country to be an attractive destination to earn a living”, according to a Channel Newasia report. [See here.]
“Based on surveys conducted in November 2013 with over 150 departing foreign workers, he said the results showed that over 90 per cent did not have any employment issues; and 80 per cent were happy working in Singapore.”
The number of Work Permit holders in Singapore is 970,600 as of June 2013. [See MOM website here.]
However, activists and aid workers involved with the migrant workers’ community say that the number of abuse is more widespread than the statistics show.
Mr Russell Heng, president of migrant workers NGO TWC2, wrote in the Straits Times on 10 December, two days after the riot:
“The foreign worker communities here have been at the receiving end of employment unfairness for a long time. Many do not receive correct salaries, or have no way – in the absence of payslips – to check whether they have been correctly paid. Some have not been paid for months; TWC2 sees a regular stream of such complaints.”
As for the lack of recreational space for the workers, TWC2 said in December:
“As for ‘spreading out the gathering points’, we must remember that people are free to choose where they want to go. It takes a whole eco-system of shops, restaurants, and fellow countrymen’s preferences to create a popular location. It is better to upgrade facilities and add extra amenities within Little India than to try to go the whole hog of social engineering.”