In a Yahoo Singapore story titled ‘Hidden slums of Singapore revealed’ Andrew Loh describes conditions he witnessed in places where migrant workers are housed. He visits some of these places and has a video of what he saw:
On the second floor lies the narrow doorway to the dormitory. Step inside and you are met with a room packed with 20 double-decker beds, stacked so tightly together there is hardly room to even walk or move around. The absence of storage space, such as cupboards or shelves, means possessions are strewn anywhere and everywhere.
Laundry is aired or dried inside the dormitory as well, given that there is also a lack of space outdoors for drying. Windows line one side of the wall but they hardly provide adequate ventilation. The room reeks of stale air.
There are 40 migrant workers in this one room.
From the video, it appears that he is visiting what we in TWC2 refers to as ‘Type 2 accommodation’: industrial buildings converted into living spaces. This is usually unsatisfactory because while the floor areas are biggish, it also means that the beds away from the exterior wall are too far from windows for fresh air. It also often means that the toilets and showers (if any) are too few for this density of housing. Industrial spaces are not designed to be so densely populated.
Here for example is a photo by Andrew Loh of the shower space of a dorm. If you look more closely, you will observe that it was probably just a balcony — you can see a concrete parapet wall up to about 0.9 metres, and then what looks like plywood from 0.9 metres to about 1.7 metres high.
In the article, Andrew discusses why these conditions persist.
The conditions are, quite honestly, appalling. It is even more unacceptable when one considers that employers are required to furnish the MOM with the addresses where their workers are put up, that the authorities claim to conduct regular inspections of these areas, and the fact that these dormitories have been around for quite some time. There is no reason for the authorities not to be aware of the existence and locations of these dormitories.
He further points out, however, that
What MOM should realise, however, is the fear among the workers of speaking up and raising concerns which they have.
When this writer spoke to the workers in these dormitories, virtually all of them seemed resigned to their fate, even as they endure their inhumane living conditions. As one of the workers told me, “I tell [about this bad living condition], my boss will send me home. So, how to tell?”
TWC2’s position is that nothing will improve if workers are not empowered to complain, and protected from being penalised for complaining. Not only should MOM put in place a confidential whistle-blower hotline, workers should be freed from being tied to their employers. They should be free to resign anytime and transfer to a new job without facing the threat of repatriation. When workers can vote with their feet, employers will start to pay attention to work, pay and housing conditions.