Landlord locks out 167 foreign workers

Landlord locks out 167 foreign workers

 

S’pore company allegedly owes $23,500 in rent for Joo Chiat quarters

 

By Alvin Lim , Gabriel Yue

 

On Wednesday, some foreign workers had to endure a six-hour wait to gain entry into their Joo Chiat quarters.

 

The reason? The landlord of two double-storey shophouses, shared by 167 workers from Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, had locked them out.

 

This is the third time this has happened within a period of five months over the issue of late rental payments.

 

When The Sunday Times visited Joo Chiat at about 6pm last Wednesday, we saw workers milling around Joo Chiat Square, an open space next to their living quarters.

 

The number swelled to more than 160 by 11pm.

 

A Bangladeshi worker, who wanted to be known only as Alim, said: ‘Our company owes the landlord money.’

 

The workers are employed by a Singapore company called Deluge Fire Protection. Based in Joo Koon Crescent, its track record includes installing fire-protection systems for VivoCity.

 

The Sunday Times witnessed the firm’s human resource manager, MrTan Poh Peng, instructing the workers not to move around and talk to the media.

 

He also spoke to a police officer – a patrol car had arrived at the scene earlier – and was overheard threatening to break into the shophouses.

 

At about midnight, one of the locks at the shophouses was broken. Shortly after that, landlord Mohamed Ali appeared.

 

He marched up to Mr Tan to talk things over with him.

 

MrMohamed Ali alleged that Deluge owes him at least $23,500 in rent.

 

He said: ‘I managed to get some payment the last two times I locked the dormitories. I was really fed up this time.

 

‘When I threatened Deluge with locking up the dormitories again, Mr Tan told me to go ahead.

 

‘I feel sorry for the workers too. They are the real victims. But I have no choice. It’s the only way I can get the company to pay me,’ he added.

 

The workers were allowed to return to their quarters at 12.15am though the money issue apparently still had not been settled.

 

The lockout is not the only problem faced by the workers.

 

The Sunday Times found their quarters dirty and smelly. The 80 or so workers in each shophouse slept in bunk beds.

 

‘This place is not fit for animals, so how can it be fit for people to live in?’ lamented one Indian worker who declined to be named for fear of being sent home.

 

Other workers said there were cockroaches, rats and even snakes. Two weeks ago, they had no water for 10 days, they said. The electricity supply was also cut off for a week.

 

Mr Mohamed Ali said non-payment of rent was the reason. However, he added that he had asked contractors to install ventilation systems, additional fans and even an air-conditioning system.

 

‘I removed the air-conditioning system at a loss of $16,000 after I was told that air-con is ‘too good’ for the workers,’ he said.

 

Asked about the living conditions, Mr Tan said: ‘This is one of the better dormitories around.’

 

But a worker from Bangladesh, who gave his name as Imran, said: ‘If Mr Tan says this is very good, then what is bad to him? No toilet, electricity, tap, ventilation. This is considered good condition?

 

‘He can say that because he doesn’t have to live here.’

 

He added: ‘But we cannot push all the blame to the company. Mohamed Ali is also not good. By locking us out, he doesn’t treat us like human beings too.’

 

But their days at the Joo Chiat shophouses are numbered.

 

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has issued an eviction notice and the workers have to move out by Friday.

 

It said that the shophouses were not sanctioned for use as workers’ quarters.

 

Mr Mohamed Ali insisted that the place was sanctioned and suggested that the eviction had more to do with the fact that the local residents might have objected to the presence of so many foreign workers.

 

A resident, who wanted to be known only as Madam Ang and who owns a shop directly opposite the quarters, said: ‘They should live in proper dormitories. ‘

 

Mr Tan Ann Kiong, project manager of Deluge, said the company had been in a rush to house its workers and did not make thorough checks.

 

Deluge has found alternative dormitory accommodation in Sungei Kadut. But some workers like Imran are not sure if relief is in sight.

 

‘We may be moving soon, but who knows if our new place would be much better? There have been too many empty promises and I dare not hope for too much,’ he said.

 

Source: Straits Times

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