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Response to ‘Work Grievances not factor in riot and NGOs should help to quell violence against workers’

Dear Sir,

I refer to the remarks by Law Minister K Shanmugam in the article, ‘Work Grievances not factor in riot’ and the letter “NGOs should help to quell violence against workers.”

With regard to the Minister’s remarks, while it is inconclusive at this stage to determine if the cause of the riot was due to work grievances, we should still not rule it out as a possibility. Research has shown that riots tend to occur among marginalised and disenfranchised groups. This is a characteristic of many large scale riots around the world. The 2011 riots in England is one such example. Therefore, it is important to examine the conditions which cause such violence to take place, and not look for immediate causes only.

HOME shares some of Mr Lee Kok Leong’s concerns about the fight which broke out in the dormitory last week. However, it is important not to be unduly alarmed about the rate of violence in the absence of statistics around this issue. We would like to point out that as much as violence occurs among workers, we have also documented many cases of employers who resort to violence when they are unhappy with their migrant employees.

Skirmishes and disputes are part and parcel of living together as a community. However, what is important is that we strengthen our social support services and networks as a strategy to minimise such conflict, and address the concerns of the migrant worker community.

There is still much more that needs to be done in this regard. Our research and casework experience has shown that many of the problems migrant workers face can be linked to weak systemic protections and inadequate social support. The ability of employers to repatriate workers unilaterally is one such example and the lack of counselling and mediation services is another.

The systemic causes of violence need to be examined as part of our conversations about the December riot, and to address the issues raised by Mr Lee Kok Leong’s about last week’s fight. This is a good opportunity for us to reflect and re-examine our attitudes, policies, and laws which affect low wage migrant workers .

Jolovan Wham (范国瀚)

Executive Director
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) 情义之家