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MPs to raise issues on Little India riot, foreign workers in Parliament

MPs are seeking answers on issues related to the Little India riot in December, when Parliament sits on Monday. While there are questions like how the 8 December riot happened, MPs said there are deeper issues that need to be discussed.

SINGAPORE: MPs are seeking answers on issues related to the Little India riot in December, when Parliament sits on Monday.

The 8 December riot was the first experienced by Singapore in some 40 years. While there are questions like how the riot happened, MPs said there are deeper issues that need to be discussed.

Nominated MP Tan Su Shan asked: "If Singaporeans don't want to do the work that our foreign workers do now, then are we prepared to have these permanent transient workers living in our space?"

Some MPs want to see the restrictions on alcohol sale and consumption in Little India expanded to other areas with a high concentration of disorderly behaviour, as a result of drinking.

Foo Mee Har, member of Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said: "Alcohol consumption in public places is a public nuisance, not just with foreign workers, but anyone. Youths, the affluent, locals, foreigners - anyone who drinks and who no longer can control themselves, be responsible for their actions and behaviour, are a public nuisance.

“There’s a difference of drinking in the comfort of your private residence, in licensed outlets where they have studied the conditions versus in the public places, which is a shared space, with families, children."

Denise Phua, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, is seeking what she calls "a whole of government" response on the issue. This includes looking at amenities provided in housing estates.

She said: "What should housing estates be like? Can there be more wholesome facilities instead of just having places which sell just lots of liquor and alcohol, 4D?

“We need to have a vision, for example from MND, from the housing folks, and then do what we need to do in terms of the tenancy mix for the floors below the flats and what we can work towards."

Some MPs believe extending help to smaller companies could be part of the solution.

Ms Tan said: "My suggestion would be for the government to consider having part of the foreign worker levy be put into raising worker welfare, to help the SME employers, the private construction employers.

“I think employers now are highly incentivised to have worker welfare maintained or improved. They don't want to see a mass deportation of their foreign workers, so any help that they can get to have standardisation and better worker welfare will be very welcomed."

To address these concerns, two ministerial statements will be delivered - one on the riot and the other on foreign worker management.

A new Bill, called the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill will also be tabled.

It is expected to address the issue of the alcohol ban in Little India as well as police powers of arrest.

Monday's Parliament sitting will be the first for the year and the first since the Little India riot.

MPs have tabled more than 30 questions on the issue of foreign workers and they run a whole gamut of issues - not just on working conditions and welfare, but also on how these workers would impact Singapore society and the broader issue of public order and security. 

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