600 WORKERS CRAMMED ON 2 FLOORS

600 WORKERS CRAMMED ON 2 FLOORS

 

54 workers crammed in one room

 

THEY were living in squalid conditions – 38 foreign workers squeezed into a tiny, dirty shophouse – when Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officials ordered their employer to find them acceptable accommodation.

 

By Tay Shi’an

 

 

31 May 2008

 

THEY were living in squalid conditions – 38 foreign workers squeezed into a tiny, dirty shophouse – when Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officials ordered their employer to find them acceptable accommodation.

 

But the employer allegedly told the workers off for going to the authorities – and moved them into an even worse dormitory as ‘punishment’ .

 

Their new home: A bedbug-infested dorm in a converted factory building in MacPherson, packed with more than 600 foreign workers from various companies on two floors.

 

The New Paper entered one room, measuring 25ft by 20ft (about the size of a two-room HDB flat), with 54workers were crammed inside.

 

The building, at Kampong Ampat, is on lease from HDB and the dorm is on the list of approved dorms on MOM’s website.

 

The foreign workers from the first dorm said they did not dare complain to MOM again, as their boss had allegedly threatened to send them back to India and get them blacklisted from working in Singapore again.

 

But their employer, Rite Choice Technologies, denied this.

 

Its director, Mr V Raju, said he was unaware of the conditions at the new dorm, which he stressed is on the list of approved dorms.

 

His company, which was fined $2,000 for the previous offence, is now being investigated by MOM for failure to ensure the well-being of their workers, along with the other companies which had housed their workers at Kampong Ampat.

 

Said a foreign worker in his 20s: ‘This place is much worse, I’ve lost 4kg just by staying here.

 

‘It’s more crowded, it’s very smelly and dirty, and the bedbugs are worse. I can’t get any sleep.

 

‘How can a person stay here?’

 

After The New Paper notified the authorities, MOM officers investigated the dorm on 22 May.

 

Said its spokesman: ‘We found that the workers were being housed in overcrowded conditions, with more than 600 foreign workers crammed into the third and fourth storeys of the factory-converted dormitory.’

 

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) also inspected the premises and found fire safety infringements relating to overcrowding and obstruction to fire escape routes, said LTC N Subhas, director of its public affairs department.

 

As for the other allegations by the Rite Choice Technologies workers, MOM’s spokesman said: ‘MOM is also assisting the workers in resolving their complaints on other employment-related issues.

 

‘We will also facilitate change of employers for foreign workers who have been victimised.’

 

Four Rite Choice Technologies workers agreed to speak to The New Paper on condition of anonymity.

 

They said they had put up with the conditions at their former dorm at a Tanjong Katong shophouse until a workplace dispute on 20 Mar.

 

That’s when they lodged a complaint with MOM.

 

The 38 workers – 17 from Rite Choice Technologies and the rest from its associate companies – had been squeezed into three bedrooms in the 1,800sq ft shophouse. The Straits Times had carried a report on it, ‘Shophouse of horrors’, on 1 Apr.

 

They slept on bunk beds, shared a single bathroom and toilet, and put up with overloaded power points and regular power trips.

 

Said one worker in Tamil: ‘MOM came and interviewed us. They came back one more time to check on our well-being, then gave us a number to call if we had any more problems.

 

‘They told us not to be scared.’

 

But he alleged that Mr Raju later questioned the workers and threatened them. He said: ‘He told us he will not be affected by this complaint. They cannot touch a hair on his head, and we will be punished for going to MOM.’

 

BEDBUG INFESTATION

 

In early May, the workers were moved to Kampong Ampat, where they slept on triple-decker beds.

 

The bedbug infestation was worse.

 

Many of the workers had mortgaged their land and houses in their home country, and could not afford to be sent back with huge debts over their heads.

 

They earn about $500 a month here, and usually spend their first year working off their loans.

 

Many are single, and a common dream is to earn enough money, then go home and get married.

 

Said one worker: ‘We thought in Singapore, we could make 25,000rupees ($800) a month and send back money. We were told that if work hard, we can make good money for our families.

 

‘If we knew what we know now, we wouldn’t have come here.’

 

But Mr Raju claimed it was a coincidence that his company was facing its second investigation in just over two months for failure to ensure the well-being of his workers.

 

He claimed he was not aware there were violations at the Kampong Ampat dorm until The New Paper called him.

 

‘I’ve never been there, I’m not aware of the conditions,’ he said.

 

He faxed over his contract with the dorm operator to show that the arrangement was legitimate.

 

Of his workers’ allegations that he had threatened them, he said: ‘No such thing. When did I say this, tell me? Can they prove it?’

 

He said that despite his company hitting the headlines last month, he did not send home a worker who had made allegations against it.

 

‘They are still working for me,’ he said. ‘I’m not planning to send back any one, I have jobs for them.’

 

His company was served a termination notice by the dorm operator, ISO Industry, and 26 of his 90 workers who are still staying there will have to leave by 26 Jun.

 

ISO Industry’s managing director, Mr Patrick Peh, said the company has admitted to the overcrowding in the Kampong Ampat dorm to MOM, and will be rectifying the conditions.

 

He said most of the workers will be moved to an approved dorm on Yishun Avenue 7 by this Sunday.

 

‘While they are away, we are going to improve the facilities and conditions. We hope to satisfy all conditions set out by the relevant authorities, ‘ he said.

 

HDB is also conducting an investigation because it was not informed that Rite Choice workers were staying there.

 

Mr Peh said this was an oversight, and ISO had informed HDB of the other sub-tenants.

 

The MOM spokesman reminded employers that, as part of the work permit conditions, they must provide proper housing for their foreign workers that comply with the requirements set by the various government agencies.

 

‘Errant employers will be prosecuted and barred from hiring foreign workers,’ she said.

 

‘MOM conducts audit checks on the approved dormitories regularly.’

 

 

——————————————————————————–

 

What happened

 

20 Mar: Rite Choice Technologies workers report to Manpower Ministry about conditions in Tanjong Katong dorm – 38 workers crammed on double-decker beds in dirty, smelly shophouse with single toilet.

 

MOM orders Rite Choice to provide acceptable accommodation for workers. Fines it $2,000.

 

Early May: 26 workers moved into Kampong Ampat dorm, housing 600 workers on two floors of converted factory. They sleep on triple-decker beds

 

 

 

Source: The New Paper

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