Tensions have been brewing for quite a while, and I believe these were sparked off by this bus accident. There have been tensions between migrant workers and bus drivers who ferry them from the industrial areas in the north and west to Little India every Sunday, where they do their shopping and hang out on their day off. I have taken these buses on a few occasions during my research and discovered the drivers tend to be very rude to the migrant workers.
The drivers – some are Singaporeans while others are Malaysian or Chinese – tend to be overworked and underpaid. They have trouble collecting fares from workers and stopping those who try to board buses that are full. They sometimes push workers off buses and verbally abuse them.
There have also been tensions between migrant workers and auxiliary police in the Little India area for quite some time. In response to complaints from residents living in the area, the local parliament member called for a more stringent policing of the area in order to keep migrant workers from “loitering”. The auxiliary police
officers, which are from private firms, are, once again, poorly paid and not properly trained. They often respond to migrant workers in an abusive and aggressive manner.
“Their negative impression of emergency services could have contributed towards the aggression shown on Sunday”
At the same time, migrant workers are also unhappy that while the authorities are quick – and aggressive – in policing their community, they are slow to respond when the workers themselves are in need, for example when they’re injured in a fight or traffic incident. [According to some witnesses
, ambulances took a long time to arrive on Sunday.] Their negative impression of emergency services could have contributed towards the aggression shown towards police and emergency vehicles at the scene on Sunday. It’s worth noting that meanwhile, none of the shops or restaurants in the area were looted.
This video shows an ambulance that was set alight and the police's intervention.
South Asian migrant workers face many problems here
. They can be deported back home any time by their employers; they’re not legally allowed to change jobs; and they’re usually in debt due to high recruitment fees, which can include kickbacks
to their employers. And since there are no independent trade unions here, these workers struggle to address the issues at work that plague them – low or unpaid wages, poorly managed or unreported work injuries, heavy work regimes, etc.
There’s a growing antipathy
of Singaporeans toward them, and I am sure that this incident, as well as the state-controlled media’s coverage of it, will breed even more.