‘We overreacted’

Yes, we overreacted to the building of a dormitory for foreign workers in our estate, admitted more than half of the Serangoon Gardens residents interviewed by MediaCorp, but the issues raised were relevant and ultimately benefited the estate, they added.

More than 100 days after the Serangoon Gardens foreign workers’ dormitory opened – a move that had drawn sharp criticism from residents determined to protect their affluent haven – there has been no friction between residents and the workers.

In fact, residents told Media­Corp reporters, who spent a day in the estate soliciting views, that they generally did not see the workers around the neighbourhood and were pleased that they had not encountered any problems with them.

Residents, such as teacher Jacqueline Loy, told MediaCorp that their concerns proved unfounded, thanks largely to how the entrances to the workers’ quarters have been designed. She pointed out that entrance to the dormitory was on the other side of the estate.

This point about workers being out of sight, and so out of mind, was made by several others interviewed. “The dormitory is all fenced up and blocked, so we don’t see them around,” said Mrs Janet Cheng. “I also don’t hear any complaints about the workers from my neighbours.”

In 2008, the Government announced plans to convert the former Serangoon Garden Technical School along Burghley Drive into a workers’ dormitory. This led to an outcry from residents.

To allay their concerns, the dormitory was fenced up and the exit to Serangoon Gardens estate was sealed. A 400m slip road, which cost $2 million, was also built to allow vehicles direct access to the dormitory from the Central Expressway.

There were, however, those who felt that the entire saga was not a complete overreaction.

“We may have overreacted a bit but if we did not complain, the dormitory entrance may not have changed,” said Ms Jenny Chan, 26.

Despite the current arrangements, there was still a handful who were unhappy about the choice of Serangoon Gardens for a workers’ dormitory. “There are other housing estates in Singapore, why was the dormitory not set up in other estates?” asked resident Karen Neo.

Member of Parliament for the area, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, told MediaCorp that one reason there had not been many problems was that residents had worked with volunteers who represented them and voiced their concerns. “If concerns about disamenities like traffic congestion were not surfaced by the residents initially, there might have been post-dorm operation issues,” she said.

Mrs Lim is also hoping to organise joint events to promote interaction and understanding between the residents and workers.

Workers living in the dormitory told MediaCorp that they had been told by the dormitory operator not to loiter around the estate.

While residents seem to have been placated – workers complained about the long walk to the dormitory entrance and the living conditions. Said waitress Mu Jing: “The decoration of the dormitory is very bare. The rooms are filled with steel beds.”

Ms Xia Yu, who works as a hotel housekeeper, said: “There are eight people living in a room, it can be quite cramped at times.”

The dormitory, which houses about 600 workers, has a provision shop, canteen and barber shop. But such no-frills accommodation is the norm, said a manager of another dormitory for foreign workers.

“The most important thing is that the basic necessities of a mini mart and canteen are met.”

Source : Today – 26 Apr 2010

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