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More dedicated gathering spaces planned for foreign workers

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin says more dedicated gathering spaces to meet the needs of foreign workers will be launched in the future.

SINGAPORE: More dedicated gathering spaces to meet the needs of foreign workers will be launched in the future, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

Delivering a ministerial statement on foreign workforce management in Parliament on Monday, Mr Tan also said alternative recreation spots specially catered for foreign workers will never totally replace such shared spaces like Little India.

Mr Tan said Little India has naturally evolved over time to cater to foreign workers' physical and emotional needs, providing a spot for meeting up and relaxation.

"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," said Mr Tan.

He asked Singaporeans to understand and appreciate the need for such shared spaces.

Mr Tan said the government will continue to improve the management of foreign workers' well-being.

He said the government had already identified the need to speed up the construction of purpose-built dormitories over the next two to three years and ensure that the daily basic living needs of more foreign workers are taken care of.

Since 2008, an inter-ministerial committee has been working towards better management of foreign workers in Singapore, covering issues like housing, transport and security.

Mr Tan said surveys commissioned by the government have found 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.

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.

A few who worked in other countries said Singapore was still the best country as it provided a safe and good work environment.

Mr Tan said foreign workers in Singapore are, by and large, treated decently by their employers.

From January to November 2013, the Manpower Ministry assisted some 7,000 foreign workers with difficulties.

Mr Tan said about half of the cases were employment-related, covering issues such as salary and overtime claims. This represents less than one per cent of foreign work permit holders.

He cautioned against generalising that there is widespread and systemic abuse of the foreign workforce, or come to a premature conclusion that it was the root cause of the Little India riot in December 2013.

Non-governmental organisations referred to authorities some 640 cases of foreign-worker mistreatment in 2013. This is less than 0.1 per cent of work permit holders.

Mr Tan pointed out that views echoed by foreign media giving the perspective of widespread mistreatment offered scant evidence.

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