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What the Government is Doing to Educate Foreign Workers

  • The Straits Times (10 September 2008) : What the Government is Doing to Educate Foreign Workers
  • The Straits Times (01 September 2008) : Wayward Workers: Hold Bosses Liable 
  • The Straits Times (22 August 2008) : Trouble in the Neighbourhood  


What the Government is Doing to Educate Foreign Workers 
- The Straits Times, 10 September 2008

We refer to Ms Tyla Teng Ning and Mr Ravi Govindan's letters ("Trouble in the neighbourhood", The Straits Times, 22 Aug 08, and "Wayward workers: Hold bosses liable", The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2008).

2.   The Police are currently investigating Ms Teng's report on the incident. Foreign workers who commit crimes will be prosecuted.  If convicted, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will also review the case and permanently bar such workers if they are assessed to be no longer suitable for working in Singapore. 

3.   Mr Ravi was concerned about foreign workers congregating in neighbourhoods where Singaporeans live. The vast majority of foreign workers are law-abiding. We should therefore not curtail their access to public areas because of the actions of a few irresponsible individuals. The Police conduct regular patrols of public areas where foreign workers congregate to ensure safety and security of residents are not compromised.

4.   The various authorities have ongoing efforts to educate foreign workers on Singapore's laws. For example, MOM produces a guidebook in nine languages that is distributed to all foreign workers when they arrive in Singapore. The Police also engage foreign workers of the various dormitories through regular roadshows and talks to educate them on Singapore's laws, as well as the consequences of committing crime. In addition, the Police have also produced posters and a video in various languages to enhance crime prevention awareness among foreign workers. The video is played at dormitory roadshows and crime prevention exhibitions conducted for foreign workers.


Wayward Workers: Hold Bosses Liable
- The Straits Times, 01 September 2008

I read with concern Miss Tyla Teng Ning's letter about her experience at the hands of a foreign worker ('Trouble in the neighbourhood', Aug 22). I extend my sympathies to her and hope the culprit is caught. At the same time, this was a molestation that was waiting to happen.

First, no one is held accountable for the errant behaviour of foreign workers. Much is made of the unavoidable responsibility of employers of the maids they hire. Maids must be given a day off, but if a maid runs riot or runs away of her own volition, the innocent employer is punished. When employers complain, the official answer is invariably the same: Who else can be held accountable but the employer? If that is the logic, the solution to the problem of foreign workers who threaten the safety of ordinary Singaporeans lies with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). If employers are accountable for the wanton acts of their maids, shouldn't MOM impose the same measure on employers or contractors of errant foreign workers?

As it stands, the responsibility for the attack on Ms Teng will fall through the cracks. It is a police case now, but will the right outcome solve the problem? Even if the culprit is caught, will it deter similar attacks on Singaporeans by foreign workers on a drinking binge, or just out to wreak havoc? I doubt it, because no one is responsible for their behaviour after work. The police cannot be expected to break up drinking sessions. They need practical help, which officials in MOM can easily offer. I have nothing but praise for our police officers as they are swift in answering public calls of unruly or suspicious behaviour by foreign workers.

Second, I know the neighbourhood where Miss Teng was attacked well. The foreign workers who gather there are Bangladeshis, who are intelligent, and, more than other foreign workers, often on the lookout for trysts. It isn't a coincidence that Malaysia once banned workers from Bangladesh because of the social disruption they wreaked. They will not hesitate to sneak into homes to visit maids, creating a potential safety problem as well. Here too, the hands of the police are tied, even if such workers are caught, because entry is usually aided and unforced. Holding employers of foreign workers responsible is a start in seriously addressing such social and safety issues.

Finally, why do we let foreign workers congregate in neighbourhoods where Singaporeans live? From what we have seen, there are insufficient safeguards or rules, or enough understanding by foreign workers about respecting the peace and safety which Singaporeans prize, and expect.


Trouble in the Neighbourhood
- The Straits Times, 22 August 2008 

Last Tuesday, I lodged a police report after I was molested by a foreign worker near my home at night. It happened while I was walking my dog along Upper Changi Road, near Tanah Merah MRT. The foreign worker, who reeked of alcohol, exploited the fact that the area was deserted and attacked me as we were walking past each other. I fought back and chased him around the residential estate, shouting for help. But no one came out to help me although there were residents sitting in the front yard of their homes, playing mahjong. Thanks to a passerby, a middle-aged Singaporean who stopped to help, I managed to catch the culprit. But he escaped before the police arrived.

My main concern relates to the safety of women who live in residential neighbourhoods such as Tanah Merah, where foreign workers congregate after work, and usually engage in beer and liquor-drinking sessions. Before I became a victim, I had noticed groups of foreign workers often leering at women walking past. Some made lewd gestures. My question is why the Government or related agencies allow these workers to congregate and consume large amounts of alcohol - which usually leads to trouble and indecent behaviour - in residential areas.

I find it increasingly hard to feel safe as a woman in Singapore. Have a male escort, you say. But it is impossible nowadays to take this safety precaution all the time because of our hectic lifestyles. As a student of the National University of Singapore, I agree that freedom of movement is a universal right. But, is it right to endow freedom to workers who terrorise and rob us of the freedom we are entitled to in our own country, and especially where we live?

I also understand that these foreign workers, like the molester who attacked me, contribute to our economy. But is safety a worthwhile trade-off? Finally, I am dismayed over the lack of 'kampung spirit' - a term Singaporeans trumpet - which went missing when I was attacked.