One location that was housing foreign workers was ” abysmal”  while the other was ” over-crowded”,  wrote Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-jin on his Facebook wall after being with two raids on migrant worker quarters.

Dated and clocked in the early hours of Thursday, November 10, 2011, the Facebook post said:

Just returned from 2 raids on foreign workers quarters. One in Sungei Kadut and the other in Tagore Lane. One was abysmal even if the workers themselves claimed that they were ok with it. They may be worried about getting into trouble. But in my various chats with them on an individual basis, other aspects of employment seemed ok. Unacceptable living conditions though. The other one was over-crowded. Not as bad as others we had come across but over-crowded nonetheless.

We’d have to deal with these violations.

In response to comments by visitors to his wall, Tan added these responses:

For many of them, some of the conditions here may be better than what they may get at home. They may have been fearful of being sent home, but those I spoke to seemed to accept the conditions. I think we should still take that with a pinch of salt. But their general working terms, pay etc seemed ok. Their accounts were quite consistent. Be that as it may, we should not accept those conditions here. One of the locations was clearly unhealthy because of the sawdust generated in the workshop. It is a potential fire hazard as well.

I visited a purpose built dormitory at Canberra Road area. That is much better and well run. Generally less issues as well. We are stepping up construction of these over the next few years.

If you have specific information, please let us know. On the ground checks will yield some finds. But it is impossible to check everywhere. Email us.

Specific working conditions and scenarios would depend on tip-offs and information. For example, even the story on FWs being used by the employer to gamble came because there was a tip off from within.

And in response to Greg Tucker-Kellogg’s comment:

Minister Tan, I admire the modesty of your own comments and your focus on foreign worker conditions. Even in your reply to comments you have kept your focus on the worker conditions. It would be pleasing if The Straits Times kept its focus there as well, instead of breathless coverage about you having “lead” the raids. You don’t make that claim here, and it seems unlikely given your public demeanor. Is it accurate?

Tan Chuan-jin replied:

I guess the thing about reporting, be it on main stream media or online, is that they choose to report it in their own ways. The raid was led by my colleagues who do this regularly to check on living conditions amongst other checks they carry out. Tagging along is important to know the ground first hand. It allows one to understand the situation as is, an opportunity to speak to workers and importantly, to recognise the efforts and good work of my colleagues who labour quietly behind the scenes everyday.

Its not just a job for them. They do care about the welfare and well being of the foreign workers. They work closely with the NGOs like MWC, TWC2 and HOME on a regular basis. I respect their work and dedication.

Greg Tucker-Kellogg was probably referring to a report carried in the Friday, November 11 edition of the Straits Times, which said in its opening paragraph:

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.


— Straits Times, November 11, 2011: Minister leads checks on workers’  dorms, by Kezia Toh

Besides adding the word ‘lead’  the newspaper also referred to the places as ‘dorms’ when the minister did not. They were unlikely to be dormitories, and from the fact that a raid had to be carried out, were not licensed accommodation.

See Press release by TWC2 on this matter.

See also Three videos: Inside look at migrant worker housing