Old Ministry of Labour Building
The Old Ministry of Labour Building (Chinese: 前劳工部大厦) currently houses the Family and Juvenile Court of the Subordinate Courts of Singapore. It is located at Havelock Square in the Outram Planning Area, within the Central Area of Singapore's central business district.
The building stands on the site of the former Chinese Protectorate Building which was established in 1877 to protect and control Chinese immigrants to Singapore. The building has been restored and is now used as the Family and Juvenile Court of Singapore.
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A grand Neo-Classical building built in 1928, the former Ministry of Labour Building is used by the judiciary and has been refurbished. In 1930, the building housed the Chinese Protectorate which was set up as an intermediary between the government and the Chinese community. Its role was to look after the welfare of the Chinese community; its work involved fighting the exploitation of prostitutes and coolies by their agents, the regulation of Chinese societies, and the control of triads.
In the early years of Singapore's development, immigrants arrived in droves; villagers from southern China constituted the largest group of immigrants. Most were men who had come to look for work as indentured labourers, or coolies. They were often abused by their agents, who held them indebted for their passage here or for fees of one kind or another. Many of the Chinese women who came ended up in brothels. Laws concerning the welfare of Chinese immigrants were drafted in 1867, though they were weakly implemented.
In 1877, the government set up the Chinese Protectorate to try to stem the abuse of Chinese immigrants. William A. Pickering, who was familiar with Chinese culture and understood the problems of the Chinese community, was called to be its head. The first Chinese Protectorate was in a shophouse on Canal Road. It moved several times over the years. In 1930, it moved to the Ministry of Labour building.
Under Pickering, the Chinese Protectorate did much to improve the welfare of the Chinese community. Pickering was hugely popular amongst the Chinese. He retired in 1888 after a near-fatal attack by a secret society member.
The Chinese Protectorate functioned until the outbreak of World War II. After the war, its responsibilities were taken over by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and later, the Ministry of Labour and Law.
- National Heritage Board (2002), Singapore's 100 Historic Places, Archipelago Press, ISBN 981-4068-23-3
- Preservation of Monuments Board, Know Our Monuments
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