Singaporeans bear the brunt of PAP’s foreign labour policies

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an old Straits Times article dated 25 November 2007. I am reproducing it here as it perfectly illustrates how ordinary Singaporeans are bearing the brunt of PAP’s foreign labour policies.

I am NOT against importing foreign labour to build our infrastructure. What I am against is the Government focusing just on allowing huge numbers of foreign workers in, but without caring about their accommodation, how they will integrate into the wider community, and whether they are adequately instructed in our social norms.

They eat, litter, get drunk, urinate, sleep and even fight

Foreign workers at void decks leave residents seething

Happy-hour sessions disturb residents, but police say workers are breaking no laws

Straits Times, 25 November 2007
ST link

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi , Shuli Sudderuddin

IT IS a weekday night at Block 651A in Jurong West Street 61, but it is ‘happy hour’ for the 40 or so Indian foreign workers hanging out at the void deck.

They sit on the floor, in small groups of three or four with fellow workers from the same village in India, and eat their curry dinners, snack on nuts and nurse bottles of Indian beer or arrack.

But the happy-hour session, which starts at about 8pm and can go on till 2am during weekends, does not always end happily.

On good nights, empty beer bottles and styrofoam food boxes litter the void deck. On bad nights, drunk workers can be found sleeping amid the litter and strong stench of urine.

Early this month, after a particularly noisy Deepavali happy-hour session, a resident in Block 651A wrote to The Straits Times to complain about the problem.

Ms Ng Hui Ying, 32, a cinema manager, said she wrote to the paper because the situation has not improved despite numerous complaints to the MP and the police.

She said: ‘The workers drink beer, get rowdy and urinate all over the place. Once, they fought using beer bottles. Sometimes, they pass out at the void deck after drinking too much.’

She and her neighbours have formed an informal vigilante group, which patrols the neighbourhood to ‘catch’ workers who sleep and urinate at the void deck.

One upset resident who lives on the ground floor of Block 653A admitted that he fought with a foreign worker earlier this year after he caught the foreigner urinating outside his kitchen window.

Mr Lee Chia Poon, 38, a plumber, said his wife, who is a member of the patrol, had alerted him to the worker urinating.

‘I ran out and grabbed him and we got into a fist fight. My fist was bleeding and I hit his head so hard that an ambulance came to patch him up.’

He said the foreign worker did not report him to the police because he knew that he was in the wrong.

There are about 10,000 foreign workers staying in dormitories that are just a 10-minute walk away from the block.

Factory worker Rahim Mohamad Nor, 54, said that seeing so many men hanging out at the void deck makes his family ‘scared’.

‘When they’re drunk, they get into fist fights and pee all around. My children are scared to go downstairs.’

The discomfort that he feels is long shared by residents in other HDB estates which have also become gathering points for foreign workers.

Residents in Block 151, Bedok Reservoir Road, which is just across the road from three dormitories housing about 9,000 foreign workers, dub their block ‘the foreign workers’ club’.

They, too, complain about the foreigners getting drunk and littering.

Housewife Lim Siew Kwan, 32, who has been living in the block for 19 years, said she does not wear any jewellery when she goes out. ‘I don’t feel safe any more,’ she said.

In the Serangoon Road area, residents at Buffalo and Chander roads have put up steel barricades around their blocks to keep foreign workers out.

Residents at Rowell Court, a cluster of 10 blocks near Little India, are following suit. They plan to build a hedge and fence around their blocks.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong touched on the issue in Parliament this month when he called on Singaporeans to be more understanding and said foreign workers do contribute to the economy.

The jump in the number of foreign workers here speaks volumes about the size of their contribution: from 248,000 in 1990 to 756,000 last year. The bulk of them are low-skilled workers here on work permits.

Among Jurong West residents interviewed, the attitude towards foreign workers ranged from one of suspicion to reluctant acceptance. Some accused the foreign workers of stealing shoes left outside flats and molesting women, but none could provide proof.

In their response to Ms Ng’s letter, the police said that they did not take any action that night because the foreign workers were not breaking any law.

Shopkeeper Tony Poh, who sells beer to the workers, said Singaporeans tend to overreact. ‘If these workers accidentally touch someone, they’d be accused of molestation. But they’re generally harmless.’

Foreign workers interviewed by The Sunday Times said not all of them are bad hats who become rowdy or litter.

Mr Shekhar, 24, a construction worker from India, said: ‘We just need a place to eat our dinner and have drinks after work. We’re not allowed to drink at the dormitories.’

The workers said residents have thrown bags of water and urine at them.

A 28-year-old construction foreman from Tamil Nadu, who has worked here for more than eight years, said he had helped build the flats in Jurong West.

‘And now I’m not even allowed to sit at the void deck with my friends?’ he asked.

Dr Jayan Jose Thomas, a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, explained that in India, it is common for men to gather in large groups for drinks after work.

He pointed out that many foreign workers come from large families. ‘Over here, they are alone and without their families. So they gather with friends from the same village or state,’ he said.

Dr Jayan also said that many Indian cities lack proper infrastructure and public toilets are unheard of in some rural areas. That, he said, could explain the problem of the workers urinating in public places.

Steps are being taken to educate the workers. The police and Residents’ Committee members have visited dormitories to inform workers of the appropriate social norms in Singapore.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has also put up posters to reinforce the message.

The Ministry of Home Affairs recently repealed a regulation forbidding beer drinking in dormitory compounds.

The MP for West Coast GRC, Mr Cedric Foo, has suggested that dormitory operators set up recreation centres where workers can socialise and drink beer.

He has also visited the dormitories to speak to the workers on social norms here.

A spokesman for Blue Star (Jurong West) and Kaki Bukit hostel said it is thinking of setting up a beer garden outside its dormitories.

In the meantime, placing more dustbins and installing portable toilets near the void decks would address the problems of littering and urinating, said shopkeeper Mr Poh.

He said: ‘Foreign workers are people too, and they have their own needs and problems. But it’s only fair that residents have a safe and clean environment.

‘Both points of view must be heard before this misunderstanding can be solved.’

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