The way we treat foreign workers in Singapore

Is some times quite deplorable. We think that we are much better than them. That just because they come to our country, they should somehow be subservient to us. And when they do things which irritate us in the slightest of ways, we show our disdain at them so openly.

I witnessed one such displays today. I was in the train this afternoon. The train was already quite packed when it pulled into City Hall station. The train became even more packed as more people boarded the train than people alighting.

Then, just as the doors were about to close, a large crowd of foreign workers from South Asia rushed to board the train. The rush of that crowd of foreign workers meant that those of us on the train were squashed. I must admit that I found the foreign workers quite malodorous. It was irritating. Not comfortable at all. But it’s not any more uncomfortable when the train is crowded during rush hour. It’s just one of those inconveniences that we have to put up with.

But not everyone on the train thought that way. One of the passengers commented very loudly in a voice full of irritation, “I must remember never to take the train on Deepavali!” And many other passengers threw the crowd of foreign workers dirty looks. As if to say that they have no place on the train. As if to say that the foreign workers are to blame for all the discomfort that we, Singaporeans, were experiencing on the train.

Why? Why do we treat the foreign workers, particularly those from South Asia, in such a deplorable way? Why do we view them with such disdain?

I agree. The foreign workers from South Asia have some cultural and behavioural traits that I find irritating. But I respect them for the hard work that they do. They do many of the things that few, if any, Singaporeans are willing to do. They clean our estates, they construct our buildings, they do a whole host of things that free up Singaporeans for higher value work.

Unless and until the day we are willing to do those dirty jobs, I think we should accept the fact that we NEED them. We depend on them for the smooth functioning of our society. In fact, we should thank them for being willing to do the jobs that we would rather stay far away from.

True… The pay that these foreign workers get here in Singapore is probably higher than what these foreign workers get if they were back in their home countries. It is very likely that the living conditions these foreign workers have in Singapore is better than what they would have back in their home countries. That does not absolve our responsibility to treat these foreign workers as fellow human beings. The golden rule still applies: treat others the way we want others to treat us.

Our humanity should guide us to treat everyone, including foreign workers, with some basic human decency. Whether we are able to treat the last and the least amongst us with basic human decency is, I think, what makes us human. That is the light within us that sets us apart from other animals. So I believe that the way we treat others isn’t as telling of who they are as it is a reflection of who we are.

And that is why I hope that we will all be more appreciative of the contributions of these foreign workers. More importantly, I hope that we can all treat them with some basic human decency. Otherwise, it just shows that we are a people that lacks a soul, that lacks that light of humanity.

I hope that we will reflect on this as Deepavali comes to an end here in Singapore. Deepavali celebrates the triumph of good over evil, the victory of light over dark. I hope that the light of humanity will triumph over the darkness of bigotry here in Singapore.

[Featured image: ST file photo by Matthias Ho]


2 thoughts on “The way we treat foreign workers in Singapore

  1. Perhaps it is due to the propaganda we are inundated with since young. You know, how Singapore is the best, totally unique, unparalleled, etc. As we grow older and dissonance seeps in, we need constant evidence to sustain the illusion. Soon we start fabricating our own.


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