On December 8th, Singapore suffered its worst outbreak of public violence and protest in decades, following the death of an immigrant worker in a bush crash accident. Several police cars were torched, property was destroyed, and numerous people were injured. Now, the Singaporean government is moving swiftly to deport at least 53 people, while charging 28 others.
Singapore has become a destination for workers from India, Bangladesh, and other low wage countries. Singapore is home to less than four million citizens, most of whom are well-educated and employed in non-manual labor jobs. With Singaporeans shunning lower-end work, the city-state has relied on importing cheap labor from abroad. This practice, however, is resulting in increased tensions between citizens and immigrants.
Singapore government looking to set an example
Singapore needs immigrant labor, but the government will not tolerate any disturbances. As such, the recent riot has drawn the ire of the government. The city-state is well-regarded for its minimal crime, clear and simple laws, and business-friendly environment. The government, however, has proven to be intolerant of criticism, civil disturbances, and other things that could upset the tranquil environment.
As such, it should come as no surprise that authorities are moving to act quickly. All 53 people scheduled to be deported are currently in jail. 52 of the people are Indian, while one person is from Bangladesh. All of those deported will be banned from ever entering the city-state again. An additional 28 people, all Indian, face criminal charges and up to 7 years in jail for their involvement in the riot. Another 200 people have been issued warnings but will be allowed to stay in the city-state.
Tensions rising between locals and immigrants
Many Singaporean citizens feel that immigrants are stealing jobs that could go to locals, while suppressing wages and contributing to overcrowding in the city-state. With rent and property prices sky-rocketing, along with inflation, many Singaporeans have come to blame immigrants. While Singapore has long been regarded as an easy place to immigrate and search for work, the government has begun to revamp and tighten its immigration policies in order to placate its increasingly vocal citizenry.
Immigrants, on the other hand, feel that they are treated unfairly. Most work for only a fraction of what a local Singaporean would earn in the same position. Immigrants also feel that they are targeted and treated poorly by local citizens. At the same time, Singapore’s strict anti- organized labor laws and policies that tend to favor businesses, often leave immigrant workers with little recourse or ability to demand better conditions.
While both sides have their points, the facts remain that Singapore needs cheap immigrant labor, and immigrants are paid better while working in Singapore than they would be in their home country. Singapore has already emerged as one of Asia’s leading cities, and is projected to grow in the years to come. Yet for growth to continue, the country will need continued access to immigrant labor. Mitigating the differences between immigrants and locals, while figuring out a system that works for both parties, may become essential in the years to come.