Little India Riot: Workers stayed in approved dorms

Little India Riot: Workers stayed in approved dorms
Foreign workers in Tekka Lane waiting to board a shuttle bus back to their dormitories on Sunday.

The workers allegedly involved in the Little India riot were staying in approved dormitories, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

While substandard worker housing does exist here, the rioters stayed in those which meet official standards, he told Bloomberg TV in an interview aired yesterday.

"So they are not living in some decrepit shack somewhere," he said, in response to allegations that the workers at the riot faced poor living conditions.

From what is known so far, the workers had "no particular employment disputes" that may have contributed to the riot, he added in a wide-ranging interview covering issues such as productivity and politics.

On foreign labour curbs, he said these were similar to government policies to cool a strong property market: "You don't know exactly at which point it will bite and you don't want to overdo it."

But the curbs seem to be taking effect, he added. As the economy restructures, there are some "positive glimpses" in productivity figures for the third quarter of this year.

On politics, Mr Tan was asked what former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's "deepest imprint" on Singapore was.

He named two things: A largely corruption-free system, and a Government that is "prepared to make the calls".

Even as Singapore evolves and political pressures mount, the Government remains mindful of the danger of becoming populist.

"Listening to people, engaging, isn't about being populist," he noted. "But making a policy, still believing that that's in the best interests of the people, remains - I think - sacrosanct."

But he does not resent the changing landscape. A questioning, challenging electorate "keeps us on our toes", he said.

As for the People's Action Party itself, it still has the support of many, he said.

"They believe that PAP remains the party that is in a good position to lead and to govern. Certainly in the near future, perhaps also in the medium term."

But many also want more options and competition, he noted. That is for the people to decide, and "that's what democracy is", he said.

Meanwhile, civil society group Workfair Singapore yesterday called on the Commitee of Inquiry, set up to investigate the riot, to deliberate in public and at a publicly accessible venue.

janiceh@sph.com.sg

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