'Not easy handling crowd of workers'

It is not easy handling crowds of workers in the hundreds jostling for a ride back to their dormitories, especially with some among them highly intoxicated after a night of drinking in Little India.

The task is made tougher for bus drivers and timekeepers - who are not even employed to marshal the workers in the first place - because of the language barrier and ugly behaviour from some passengers, said representatives from the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA), which runs the service at Tekka Lane.

SSTA chairman Wong Ann Lin last Friday told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) looking into the cause of the riot on Dec 8 that the timekeepers' main role was to coordinate the movements of buses on different routes according to a schedule, while a supervisor managed three timekeepers and ensured bus operators obeyed the rules.

None of the timekeepers or supervisors is trained to speak Tamil or Bangladeshi, and all communication with the workers is in English.

"We are not supposed to manage workers. We have instruction signs so the passengers will have to queue at the right place," said Mr Wong, although staff do guide workers who ask for directions, and remind them to cross the road safely.

Mr Wong said workers would ignore reminders and rush towards an arriving bus, preventing it from stopping at its designated point.

On one occasion, a worker's foot was crushed even though the bus moved forward "inch by inch". Police subsequently obtained CCTV footage from the bus that exonerated the driver, he said.

"Actually, it is not our fault because the crowd - you cannot control," he said. "They want to go back early, so they just rush forward."

The problem of workers vomiting on the buses also came to a head about two years ago, said Mr Wong, and after seeing more such cases, both the drivers and SSTA together decided they would no longer ferry intoxicated workers.

Police sometimes had to be called in when workers who were refused passage would kick up a fuss, added Mr Tan Jee Tuan, a supervisor of the timekeepers, including Madam Wong Geck Woon, who was injured on the night of the riot.

Asked by committee member John De Payva if he was aware of allegations made by earlier witnesses that bus drivers and timekeepers used vulgarities and racist language against the workers, Mr Wong said he had not observed this nor had he received any such feedback.

Some witnesses had testified that workers may have been angry with Madam Wong because she had verbally abused them, with auxiliary officer Nathan Chandra Sekaran telling the committee he had personally heard her use words like "stupid" and "idiot" on the workers.

But while Madam Wong "speaks louder than most people", Mr Tan said he had never heard her use rough language on the workers.

At Little India, said Mr Wong, the "environment is different", and sometimes required timekeepers to speak loudly.

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