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Discrimination in Singapore

What do you think are some instances of discrimination in Singapore? What do you think can be done about them?

Singapore has long been regarded as a developed country – the island state, though physically tiny, has experienced many years of good governance, one of the primary causes for its development from the humble fishing village it was nearly two centuries before to the bustling metropolitan city it is today. By definition, a developed country is one which not only is economically advanced, but also one which respects the rights of its citizens, be it the majority or the minority, and protects them from discrimination. Indeed, Singapore has relatively few instances of discrimination. However, there are still some instances of discrimination in Singapore, mainly, discrimination against domestic workers and discrimination against minority races. Although it is unlikely that discrimination can be entirely wiped out, there are several actions which can be taken to minimise it.

Firstly, one instance of discrimination would be domestic worker abuse. The employment of domestic workers in Singapore is quite high – the number stands at around 150 thousand. Most of them are migrant Sri Lanka. Amounting to about 10% of the total number of foreigners working here, domestic workers are the biggest category of foreign workers in Singapore. However, these workers are excluded from Singapore’s Employment Act. Key labour conditions, such as wages, hours of work, and salary deductions are left to employers and agencies, while domestic workers have little or no bargaining power. This has resulted in many cases of domestic worker abuse, whereby the workers are forced to work long hours with insufficient rest or are confined to their workplace. Such workers should be protected. This is particularly important because foreign workers tend to agree to work for relatively low wages in Singapore for fear of being sent back to their own country, where pay is even lower. In my opinion, these cases of abuse should be regarded as discrimination against the domestic workers. They are clear signs that discrimination against domestic workers is a problem in Singapore.

A second instance of discrimination would be that against minority races in Singapore. This issue is particularly sensitive, with signals coming from our government that discussing it is taboo. Lily Zubaidah Rahim raises many important points in her book, The Singapore Dilemma. For example, she raises the idea that the public housing scheme, which the PAP is so proud of, has the effect of splintering the Malay community into housing estates throughout Singapore. Though ethnic residential quotas introduced in 1989 to prevent ethnic enclaves from emerging and harming racial harmony, it also has its negative effects – Malays in Singapore, face difficulty gathering enough electoral support to push for their agenda. This, though not major, is an instance of discrimination in Singapore. It is also interesting to note that such views are not expressed in the mainstream media or published in our textbooks. Though there are certainly cases of racial discrimination in Singapore, open discussion of the issue is frowned upon, not bringing the problem any nearer to being solved and maybe even worsening the situation.

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