L: Vinothkumar. R: Anisul speaking with our volunteer
By TWC2 volunteers Choy Chee Yew and Hannah Go based on interviews in December 2020
“Water for drinking, get only from toilet,” says Vinothkumar, complaining about the conditions in which he was housed. He doesn’t mean that he was scooping water out from the toilet bowl, but that the only working faucet was the one next to the porcelain, normally intended for a hose.
“What kind of dormitory is this?” we ask.
“Not dormitory,” he clarifies. “Factory. I stay inside the factory.”
Anjuvetti Vinothkumar, a welder from India, was with an engineering company for about four years. For the first three of those years, he was housed in what sounds like a factory-converted dormitory in Sungei Kadut industrial estate. Then in the fourth year, he was moved to the company’s factory in the Mandai area — that’s the one with water from the toilet.
The Sungei Kadut place was a two-storey building housing workers from many different companies. Kumar estimates there were about 200 residents there, with about 100 men per floor. There were six toilets per floor, making a ratio of 17 men per toilet. Kumar says it was a rather run-down place. Fixtures and windows were breaking all the time and some men were even injured as a result.
From what he heard, his employer decided to move its workers out when the dormitory asked to raise the rent from $280 per worker to $300. Following that, the place was shut down by the authorities soon after, he adds. But he is not sure how true that is.
The Sungei Kadut place was luxury compared to where the men were moved to.
At the Mandai factory, the area where he was housed was only separated from the working area by a flimsy wall. Because work continued late into the night at the steel fabrication plant, even when he was off-duty, it was hard to sleep because of the noise from cutting and grinding steel. It was also dusty.
The men were not allowed to cook there, so twice a day, they had to walk about 500 metres to the shops to get their food. There were also no proper facilities for washing clothes.
“MOM want me to stay there,” says Kumar, referring to the Ministry of Manpower. “But I say condition is very bad, how can man stay there? Not have water, not have food. So noisy.”
Apparently the ministry official’s response to him was that the place was approved by the Building and Construction Authority.
“I turn this side, no space. Turn other side, no space,” Islam Mohammed Anisul, another migrant worker, describes his sleeping quarters within an industrial building in Woodlands. He is talking about his bed, which is very narrow, only as wide as his pillow.
At a time when social distancing continues to be of utmost importance, there seems to be no such thing for Anisul and his roommates, with 22 of them crammed into a room of 15 bunk beds. He can’t say exactly how big the room is, although the beds are supposedly spaced one metre apart. He then remembers that he has a photo on his phone, which he pulls out. The room — which looks about the size of a classroom — seems well lit and there are fans visible. There are no windows, however; only vents that are about 700mm wide.
The men share four toilets and two showers among them. Asked about the condition, Anisul says that the toilets are impossible to clean, and come with plenty of mosquitoes.
“Everything is no good. Food is no good,” he says, grimacing.
Before moving into this building, Anisul was housed at a place called ABC Hostel, which he describes as “okay”. At the time, he received a food allowance of $140 per month from his employer; but since their move to Woodlands, the food has been provided in kind, not in cash. He finds it hard to describe what he gets, only that it is mostly rice with very small portions of other stuff on top. He cannot stomach much of that, he says.
Overall, he is unhappy with the way he and his mates are housed. “Environment is no good. Everything no good. I want to complain, but there is no one [to talk to].”
As for his mates, they too don’t want to put their jobs at risk by speaking out. “Other people are scared, they don’t want to say anything.”
Then again, Kumar did raise the issue with MOM. It got him nowhere.