Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has described the December 8 outbreak of violence by the South Asian foreign workers here as inexcusable, but he assured that Singapore will treat its guest workers fairly as long as they abide by the city state’s laws.

“We will continue to treat foreign workers fairly, but we expect them to obey our laws and social norms,” said Mr. Lee on Tuesday night in his New Year message.

“The riot in Little India was inexcusable. We have taken firm action against the culprits. Several have been charged, others warned and repatriated, and still others advised to abide strictly by our laws,” he said.

“The Committee of Inquiry (COI) will establish how the riot happened, and how we can prevent such incidents in future. The riot reminds us that we can never take good order, peace and stability for granted,” said Mr. Lee.

The Committee of Inquiry (COI) was set up after the riots in Singapore which was the worst outbreak of violence in over 40 years.

During his speech Mr. Lee also underlined the importance of foreign workers to Singapore.

“We are taking a balanced approach, reducing but not cutting off the inflow of foreign workers. This is why (Singapore) companies are finding it harder to hire the workers they need, especially SMEs (the small and medium enterprises)”, Mr. Lee said.

“We are helping companies adapt by exploiting technology and becoming more productive. At the same time, we are encouraging firms to develop their Singaporean workforce and adopt fair employment practises.

“But we still need foreign workers to keep our economy running and to build critical infrastructure for Singaporeans,” added Mr. Lee.

Around 400 South Asian migrant workers were involved in the rampage in Little India on December 8, a precinct of Indian-origin businesses, eateries and pubs where most South Asian workers take their Sunday break. An accident in which an Indian was killed triggered the riots.

25 Indians are facing court charges for rioting and 56 Indians and one Bangladeshi were deported. The Singapore government has also issued police warning to 200 other South Asian workers.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lee said Singapore economy grew by 3.7 per cent last year and he expected an economic growth of between 2 per cent and 4 per cent this year.