Friday 11 November 2011

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin leads check on workers' dorms

Tan Chuan-Jin describes conditions at two dorms as crowded, 'abysmal'
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2011

IT IS not every day that a minister leads a raid to check on foreign workers' quarters to see their conditions for himself, but Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin did just that on Wednesday evening.

After visiting two dormitories, one in Sungei Kadut and the other in Tagore Lane, he wrote in a post on his Facebook page that one was overcrowded, and that conditions in the other were 'abysmal'.

'One was abysmal, even if the workers themselves claimed that they were okay with it,' he wrote.

He said that if they sounded accepting of their living conditions, it was probably because they feared getting into trouble and possibly being sent home.

He also noted that one of the dorms was clearly unhealthy to live in because of the sawdust generated in the workshop, which was a fire hazard.

Mr Tan noted, however, that from his one-on-one conversations with these workers, he consistently got the picture that other aspects of their employment here, such as salary and terms of employment, were fine.

He said that for many workers, the conditions here may be better than what they get at home, but 'be that as it may, we should not accept those conditions here'.

He ended the post by stating: 'We'd have to deal with these violations.'

His post was warmly received by netizens, with many praising him for taking the trouble to lead the inspection.

Many thanked him for striving to achieve living conditions that were more than just 'good enough'.

One of them wrote: 'We really need our leaders to 'walk the talk'. These foreign workers, like our forefathers, work hard in Singapore to seek better pay and opportunity to give their families back home a better quality of life.

'They have contributed to our society and to Singapore and should be taken care of fairly and reasonably.'

Others called for more to be done, such as settling pay disputes for workers, or even having a hotline for foreign workers seeking advice or a listening ear.

Foreign workers' dormitories have come under fire for being cramped, unhygienic or poorly ventilated.

Dormitory operators and employers are bound by law to provide foreign workers with accommodation that meets a host of legal requirements with regard to land use, structural integrity, fire safety as well as hygiene and sanitation.

Mr Tan, a newcomer to politics, was a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Overseas Scholarship recipient and a commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command. He served in the military for 24 years.

He led SAF's emergency relief effort to Aceh in Indonesia during the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

In a Straits Times report in March, just ahead of the general election that was to put him in politics, he said: 'To be involved in the grassroots allows us to directly know our people's needs and concerns, and to make what difference we can.

'I believe it is also about bringing people together to build strong communities.'

His latest post on workers' dorms also included a comment that he had visited a purpose-built dormitory in Canberra Road, and found it much better run.

Construction on these will be stepped up over the next few years, he said.

Need to keep 'open conversations' on well-being of foreign workers
TODAY, 18 Nov 2011

With the well-being of foreign workers a pressing issue - underscored by his recent visits to unapproved foreign worker housing - Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin stressed the importance of the Government's relationship with non-government organisations (NGOs) in tackling the situation.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Tan said: "The Government plays a different role from NGOs, and there will be times when we may have to agree to disagree. Nonetheless, our differences should not blind us to opportunities to collaborate. We share many common objectives."

In his post, he had described his visits to foreign worker dormitories, as well as to the Migrant Workers Centre set up by employers and unions, and the Cuff Road Project - a "soup kitchen" for injured foreign workers - run by Transient Workers Count Too.

"Open conversations such as these are an integral part of building mutual respect and trust between the Government and its partners, and will greatly help to ensure that our policies and practices remain relevant to actual situations on the ground," said Mr Tan, who also commended the NGOs for their work.

Of a visit to a purpose-built dormitory last Tuesday, Mr Tan noted it was "well-organised and maintained" and said the Government would work towards providing more of such sites.

A visit to a non-approved foreign worker housing at a factory in Sungei Kadut revealed cramped living quarters converted from unused wooden cabinets, in a mezzanine accessible only by a single unsteady ladder, and covered with sawdust.

"One can only wonder about the long-term effects of living under such conditions, or the terrible consequences in the event of a fire," said Mr Tan, adding that the employers have been told to relocate their workers to proper living conditions within two weeks.

He also visited workers' dorms which were overcrowded and would be investigated.

Providing acceptable housing for foreign workers is simply "the right thing for employers to do". "It is unacceptable for employers, or unscrupulous operators of foreign worker housing, to house workers in sub-standard conditions because they want to save costs or maximise profits," he said.

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