The kind uncle

Mr Saravanan breaking into a smile after Mr Lau told him and two other foreign construction workers that they did not have to give up their train seats to men.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

A kind act by a Singaporean "uncle" towards three foreign labourers has been lauded by netizens in a Facebook post that went viral overnight.

It has also sparked a discussion on how Singaporeans treat foreigner workers in their midst.

On Monday evening, Mr Rimy Lau, 68, encouraged the workers in an off-peak train to keep their seats after they tried to give them up to Singaporean commuters. "Hey, you can sit down," he said. "You don't always have to give up your seat, especially not to men on the train. You come here to build our homes, so you can sit also, you know?"

His action, captured in a Facebook post by this reporter, who was in the same carriage, has gone viral.

The post itself has been shared more than 15,000 times by users and organisations such as the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). Its page chalked up about 14,000 likes and an online Straits Times story on the act reached more than 800,000 users and has been shared about 30,000 times.

People recounted similar experiences of foreign workers offering their seats to Singaporeans - often with little acknowledgement. Praising Mr Lau on Facebook, corporate trainer Faith Sudharman, 43, wrote: "Proud of this Singaporean uncle!"

SKM general secretary William Wan believed that the post resonated with Singaporeans. He said: "We have to gather in common spaces such as buses and trains very often. In these circumstances, we are neighbours by chance, but can become friends by choice."

Mr Bernard Menon, executive director of Migrant Workers' Centre, said people are increasingly concerned about the conditions and treatment of migrant workers.

Foreign worker Saravanan Samidurai, 28, initially appeared puzzled by Mr Lau's interaction, but eventually broke into a smile and took a selfie with him. When asked how he felt about Mr Lau's gesture, Mr Saravanan said he was happy.

He added: "Mr Lau is such a kind and friendly person. My Indian friends gave me a lot of instructions to give up my seat to Singaporeans, but Mr Lau asked me to sit. Singaporeans are actually very nice."

Mr Lau, who was a housekeeping supervisor at the Regent Singapore hotel, said he learnt that the construction workers from India were new to Singapore and on their way to Admiralty. He said: "They were so kind-hearted. They wanted others to sit down. I told them that it was not necessary as there was still space in the train, and they are new here with a long ride ahead."

Mr Wan said the incident highlights the need to put aside racial and economic class discrimination. He said: "The uncle appreciates Mr Saravanan's contribution to Singapore because he works hard - not because of his occupation or the colour of his skin."

Ms Debbie Fordyce, executive committee member of human rights group Transient Workers Count Too, agreed.

She said the fact that people were amazed by the interaction shows that there is still some way to go in recognising migrant workers as "people who are deserving of a seat and deserving of gratitude and re-cognition for their hard work".

To Mr Lau, it was about making them feel welcome. He said: "They come here to work. This is how we can take care of them."

This article was first published on Aug 26, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.