Townships for foreign workers could house up to 20,000 under one roof

The idea of a township for foreign workers had taken off in places like the Middle East, where dormitories for foreign workers, which are sustainable and self-contained, are said to house more than 100,000 people.

In Singapore, dormitory operators said this idea could take off given the acute shortage of foreign workers’ housing.

There are 756,000 foreign workers in Singapore in 2006, with a higher number during the construction boom. Most of the workers live in 36 permanent commercially-run dormitories and 18 industrial or warehouse developments.

To meet the shortage in dormitories, the Government said it will be releasing 65,000 more bed spaces in 11 new dormitory sites by 2010.

The concept of foreign worker townships is new in Singapore but self-contained dormitories had sprung up, like one at Penjuru Place in the Western part of Singapore, which houses 6,000 foreign workers.

The Penjuru Dorm has a canteen, a minimart and even a wet market. For recreation, there is an exercise corner and a space for the workers to play a game of sepak takraw. Cable TV is also available in the flats.

Each unit is the size of a 2-room HDB flat and comes equipped with a bedroom, a living area, a kitchen and toilets. Housing is paid for by the workers’ employers and can cost about S$180 per person per month.

Dormitory operators said townships will be similar to this, but on a much larger scale.

Director of Mini Environment Services Pte Ltd, Mohd Jinna, said, “We will be able to handle 18 to 20,000 workers in one location, with segments of maybe four dormitories.

“There will be a cinema theater, shopping centre, (and) minimarts. We (will) have a beer garden for these workers to consume their liquor in (the) house rather than going out to disturb the residents.”

But with such a big township, security would be an issue.

At the Penjuru Dorm, foreign workers are housed in 2 sections of 3,000 units each for better crowd control.

Workers are also given biometric passes to move in and out of their quarters.

A group of these workers had even partnered government agencies like the Singapore Police Force and the National Environment Agency, as well as the nearby Teban Garden estate‚Äôs Residents’ Committee to form a patrol group.

The group of 10 foreign workers call themselves the “Kampong Spirit”. They conduct walkabouts around the nearby housing estates on weekends every fortnight.

One such foreign worker, Nathan Neduzcheliyan, said, “When we go for the patrolling, we advise the workers. (If) they (are) sitting under the block, talking loudly, drinking, we go advise the people – don’t do this. All try to cooperate with everybody. Don’t disturb other people.”

Property manager of Mini Environment Services Pte Ltd, Jimmy Wee, said, “Workers are involved because sometimes Singaporeans do not talk the foreign workers’ lingo.”

The company said residents’ complaints against the foreign workers had dropped since the patrol initiative was introduced a year ago.

But even with such progressive management practices, the question still boils down to whether Singaporeans are comfortable with living in close proximity to townships housing these workers.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 10 Sep 2008

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