Foreign Workers? Not in My Backyard!

A lot of my articles have something to do with my life in Singapore. When you read them, it’s obvious that the people here is not one of my favorite things about Singapore. But generally speaking, I have nothing against them.

Until this morning, when I read an article at The Straits Times today titled “Foreign Workers? Not in my Backyard”. The article basically described that some 600 residents of Serangoon Gardens signed a petition against converting an unused school there into a dormitory for foreign workers, citing concerns for security and social problems as well as fear that foreign workers would spoil the ambiance of the estate.

And I started thinking, “Wait a minute…. why are these foreign workers here in the first place? Because YOU GUYS want them to come to work on jobs that you yourselves despise.” It is widely known that construction workers and seamen in Singapore are largely foreigners, so are the domestic helpers – no Singaporean seems to want this job. So here are 600 Singaporeans, wanting foreign workers to come and work, but not wanting to provide them with decent shelters.

But upon reading the rest of the article and the direct quotes from the residents, I just can’t help myself but being furious. Below are direct quotes from the residents who signed the petition:

“Many were afraid that their maids might befriend the foreign workers and invite them into their houses while they are out.”

Isn’t making friends one of the basic rights of every human being?? Do I need to even create new articles in this blog that many Singaporean employers actually lock their foreign maids in the house in so they cannot make friends or report any employer abuse to authorities?

This is such a simple issue. If people are worried about strangers being brought into the house, simply put cameras at the front and back door to monitor. If you say you don’t have the money for all this extra safety precautions, well, simply … just don’t have a live-in maid! I have had live-in maids all my life and having them inviting guests in is a latent risk, especially when the employer doesn’t provide them with room and space to socialize.

Which brings me to my next point. Employers can actually give their maid one day off a week or a few hours off every day (a basic work right MOST maids never get in Singapore) so they can actually go out and meet friends so they don’t need to invite anyone in just to satisfy their social needs of making friends.

Another quote said, “My sister, who also lives in the neighborhood, had forgotten to lock her car one evening. A foreign worker was caught trying to steal her CashCard and other items in the car.”

Probably Singapore is the only country in the world where someone who forgot to lock the car blames someone else for wanting to steal things. It’s her own bl^*&&$%^y fault that she forgot to lock her car, she’s lucky that this guy only attempted to steal CashCard and a few small items. In other countries, her car would have been taken away in no time at all!

I have also forgotten to lock my car one evening at East Coast Park, with three laptops, a GPS device, and a CashCard worth $100 inside. If any of these items were stolen that evening, I had no one else to blame but my own stupidity.

Another quote: “With 1,000 workers living here, there would be so many of us using the buses.”

I believe the 69 year-old retired teacher who said this has lived in Singapore way longer than I am …. she should have known better that the Singapore government never executes a redevelopment plan without thinking about the additional facilities required. With 1000 more residents in the area, I bet the government will get more buses to come to this neighborhood, or even build new bus stops. Or create food centers and convenience stores within walking distance from the dorm.

In addition, most foreign workers (I assume that these foreign workers would mostly be construction workers) are picked up by their employers in the morning, and driven back to their dormitory after work. They won’t create additional congestion to the bus and subway (MRT) system during rush hour. If ever they use the bus, it would be to go out to a food center to eat, or to meet up their friends – which supposedly will take place off-peak hours.

I cannot help but think how selfish and short-minded these Singaporeans are, when their government has actually done so much more to them than any citizen of the world could ever dream of from their leaders.

Some times, when I think about this, I just wish that every Singaporean would go through a mandatory two-year internship in another country where the government never takes care of the people and infrastructure planning simply does not exist … just so they learn not to take their government for granted.

If anything should be taught to these Singaporeans, it is definitely how to be less selfish and more considerate.

15 thoughts on “Foreign Workers? Not in My Backyard!

  1. You wrote:

    “If anything should be taught to these Singaporeans, it is definitely how to be less selfish and more considerate.”

    If you’re not a resident there, you’d have no idea how thhe residents feel. So you should just shut up.
    We almost bought a house in Serangoon Garden. Thank goodness we did not. I do not like people and hate making friends.

  2. Hi Filia – Please try putting your feet on the foreign workers’ shoes. Many of these people live in containers, or temporary shelters that house 20-30 people in a room, with no ventilation, no place to put their belongings, not enough showers. It is simply inhumane.

    There are simply not enough decent shelters for them, on the other hand the demand for construction and domestic work in Singapore make them keep coming. So there just has to be new dorms built for them.

    Singapore being the little country that it is, residents in some parts of the island just have to make a bit of sacrifice and make room for foreign workers to have their good night’s sleep.

    If you really think about it, which one is the most urgent need – a decent shelter, or a good ambiance for the estate?

  3. How would you feel if 1500 foreign workers were to move to your housing estate 10m away from your house? How would you feel if you had to deal with traffic jam every morning when the trucks pick the workers? Increasing crime rates? I’m not saying all foreign workers are bad, but out of 1500, there’ll bound to be a few bad eggs. As for maids, that is another story, one of my maids sneaked in her bf to our house at 3am. Next thing we knew, she’s pregnant. She finally confessed and we had to send her away. Another one invited 6 people while we’re away on holiday to have a party at my place. They’re planning to spend the night there till my neighbour threatened to call the police. These happened without foreign workers dorm nearby, can you imagine with dorm within 1km radius. Why do the residents need to be subjected to such potential danger?

    I do symphatize with foreign workers who come to Singapore to make honest living. They’re human beings whose value is not less than any millionaire who lives in D9, 10, 11 and 15. They deserve a proper place to live, decent cooking area, decent toilet amenities during their stay in Singapore. But that should be achieved through other possible win-win solutions ; and not at the expense of comfort/sense of security of regular Singaporeans.

    Why can’t the government find a non residential space far away from the city? After all there’re still plenty of unused piece of land elsewhere.

  4. Hi Filia – thanks for writing back. I think it all comes down to cost and communication. Converting an abandoned compound into a dorm is cheaper and faster than building a new site on an empty land.

    But communication could have been handled way better – it doesn’t help when the residents hear these things from the newspaper before proper announcement and consultation, and when residents don’t hear whether/not the government has looked for other options and locations.

    I have also had maids stealing money, precious China collection, clothes, shoes, etc. For this very reason, I choose to not have a live-in maid now. If we are sooooo worried about maids stealing our stuff, well, we simply should not put them in our house, our utmost sanctuary, instead of being overburdened with worry every hour of the day.

    There are currently 4 big construction projects where I live, with trucks transporting foreign workers to and fro coming by my neighborhood and my husband’s way to work every single day.

    Our Singaporean friends were surprised that we bought where we are, because they considered the area “too industrial” and “too studded with trucks”. Only after they visit our place do they see that the trucks, factories, construction sites and foreign workers don’t matter much. The fact is that our apartment is comfortable and our complex very well-maintained. Once they’re in, they forget that it’s located in some industrial madness.

    After all, once home, we spend our time at home – not hanging out in the neighborhood just to marvel at some construction sites🙂

    Not being a citizen here, I simply have no say in revoking a government’s plan if they want to put 1000 workers in front of my house – so I would just go with it, make necessary adjustment in my lifestyle, if needed – and be happy with it🙂

    Having lived in and visited places where the government doesn’t care about the people, and the standard of living way lower than in Singapore, I simply can’t complain about the way Singapore is run.

    You’re right that I don’t have 1500 foreign workers just 10m away, but there are some workers dorm just a few blocks away from where I live, more than 1,000 workers. Security is not an issue at all to this date.

    You’re also right that from among 1000 housed in the future dorm, a few are bound to be bad eggs. But aren’t we all? In any schools, any companies, any countries, any streets we walk by, there are bound to be a few bad eggs. Stealing may not always be the case, but I believe you have seen rude acts in some food centers or on the street that just make you scratch your head in disbelief. Or neighbors who party so loudly throughout the night. Or husbands / wives who totally abuse their spouse, verbally or physically; school kids who bully other kids, etc.

    So, I just think it’s a matter of improving communication with the residents, educating the foreign workers on the ways of living in Singapore so they are better received by the locals (which MOST employment agency doesn’t do, by the way …), and a little more open mindedness.

  5. Dear Elinski,

    I agree with you in many ways. Granted Singaporeans are not the most open minded or considerate people on earth. I still think it is very unfair to take away their comfort and peace of mind. The difference in lifestyle between the workers and the residents is simply too big.

    I understand that there are 4 construction projects going on near to where you live, likewise, there are 4 condominium projects within few minutes walk from where I live. Like you, I do not feel it’s such a big deal when we see them around. However, I know that these workers are not going to be in the vicinity after 8pm. I know for certain that there are not going to be binge drinking sessions going on every night. And we can be assured that nobody will make loud noises or hold parties all through the night. If I’m not mistaken, residents in Jurong are experiencing these problems (noise level, binge drinking sessions, urine smell in the estate, mess after drinking sessions) after foreign workers dorms were built in their area few years ago. Therefore, it’s proven that building a dorm in residential areas will cause lifestyle problems to current residents. And if foreign workers dorms were to be built in Serangoon Garden, then the residents living there will have to deal with those problems on daily basis. They do not have the “no more after 8pm” luxury. In my opinion, these people are not selfish. They are just protecting what I consider to be their rights.

    Like you, I also do not employ any live-in maid anymore. However, not everybody has that option. There are many families that have elderly parents who need medical care; there are many children whose parents need to work because their mothers can’t afford to stay home and be full time mothers. For these reasons, they need to employ live-in maids. There are too many real life stories where they’ve been known to sneak in workers to employers’ homes. Therefore, I still think the residents’ fear is valid.

    I think your ideas of educating foreign workers and improving communication among the residents and workers are totally great. Unfortunately, we live in a realistic world where prejudice and fear are parts of everyday decision making process. I believe this phenomena is not unique to Singapore. It is the same almost everywhere in the world. Try bringing in 1500 foreign workers and housing them in the midst of Wellesley, Pacific Heights, Irvine, Passy, St. Paul, Kemang or even Castro, we’ll see if people are still as open minded as they claim to be. Good day.

  6. I agree that while foreign workers are essential to the economy etc, they are also rather ‘proficient’ at eve-teasing and making us feel uncomfortable in general. Its not a case of xenophobia or ‘inconsideration’ but just a fear of safety and mental peace. I’d support townships for the workers…as long as they are not in my backyard.

  7. I think the solution is simple. Stop asking foreign workers to do dirty works, and ask good-ol-citizens-of-singapore to do the works themselves..

  8. Hi all – John Gee from Transient Workers Count Too (TCWT) wrote at Straits Times today that foreign workers boom in Singapore started about 10 years ago, and look at what I found on the Singapore Police Force’s website (www.spf.gov.sg):

    “The number of foreigners arrested for crime decreased from 3,036 to 2,758 persons in 2006. They accounted for about 14% of the total persons arrested, same as in 2005”.

    I wish they have a more recent figure, but the fact that 14% of crimes were done by foreigners here mean that the vast majority of crimes in Singapore are done by fellow Singaporeans and as such the fear over safety is more a perception than fact.

    Based on 2007 data that there are 3.58 million Singapore citizens + PRs, and 1.01 million foreigners in Singapore …. There are only 3.5 times more Singaporean citizens + PRs compared to foreigners. However, there are 6.1 times more crimes committed by Singaporeans + PRs compared to foreigners.

    So if foreign workers are making us feel uncomfortable, in my experience it’s more because they some times litter or smoke in public; or they look sweaty some times I do feel uncomfortable sitting next to them in a bus (but hey … my Singaporean plumber and carpenter also share the same kind of sweaty look and I let them walk around in my house😀.

    Not because they validly, statistically, pose criminal threats.

  9. Hi all,

    Perceived threat or not, it is better to play safe. It is not that there are no alternatives, but rather, we are only asking MND to consider our concerns.

    And, the residents here are multi-racial – Indians, Chinese, Malay and others. We do not know which racial group or groups will be housed here if planned. So which racial group against which racial group? In the dialogue with George Yeo – all racial group turned up and stand together. Hence racial discrimination is NOT evident at all.

    Here, residents drive mainly Hyundae, Honda, Toyota and occasional more expensive ones. Some do not own cars. So, population here is from wide spectrum of Singapore society. So which group is against which group? I cannto figure out. Some people who stayed here for many years are actually poorer than most. They are staying on homes left by the parents, and their kids already moved out. Like most old folks in Singapore – their only income is parent maintenance by their kids (if any). Their asset if you call it, will not be theirs should they go anyway and it is their only home – they cannot afford new ones no matter how cheap.

    Traffic is a real concern. It is a real threat. I cannot see one sensible suggestion on how to accomodate 60 over lorries/bus at 7am in the morning adding to the congestion – from those people who criticize Sg residents.

    Basically, I categorise those into 2 groups – those who totally did not do homework and do not know this area at all (the people, environment and road networks). The second group are self righteous and self fish folks who are not at the centre of the issue but just comment bec it is easy to position and write from a high moral stand point and criticize us. I wonder if MND want to build one right next to their home or block – will they sing the same human right tune? BTW, we advocate human right as well – that the FW should be housed humanely as well. And we are only asking government to house then in non-residential areas – that is all.

    I have this question to these 2 groups. Will they say the same thing also if we say it is right inside Holland Village or 6th Ave or Oxely Rise?

    There you have it.

    Regards.
    sgfolk

  10. Hi sgfolk – I agree with you that the issue here is not racial discrimination. What I believe is that it’s a simple issue of courtesy and living in harmony.

    Just because some residents own / buy a property in Serangoon Gardens do not warrant that they can decide who can stay there, and when.

    It’s just like when people pay a premium for an apartment with a sea view … it does not guarantee that no one will build a building that will block our view to the sea. If that happens, all we can do is grumble, but we can’t stop that development from breaking ground.

    The case might be different, but the principle is the same. We have to make way for development. Singapore being the little island that it is, it’s literally impossible to house foreign workers without being side-by-side with residential areas.

    So people just have to set aside space for other people and live with it. Be considerate and welcoming. I can prove you that the more Singaporeans resist and retaliate, the more hostile they will be to you. Your fear of safety would then be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    But when we offer them courtesy and an eye that sees without prejudice, people will think twice before doing us any harm.

    And you may think that I’m just writing from a “high moral standpoint” without understanding what residents are going through. But let me tell you this … I already live next to Jurong industrial area, surrounded by workers dorm. Safety has not been an issue at all. If any, the issue I have is the occasional bad truck drivers who drive like a 15-year old without a license…. but many Singaporean taxi drivers drive even worse than these truck drivers so I really don’t have anything valid to complain about🙂

    1. Yes, I have thought of Singapore without foreign workers, many times.

      Singapore would be a deserted unmaintained place because no one is willing to be a construction worker that support the development of the nation. No one would fix your old roads, upgrade your HDBs, dig underground for additional MRT lines, or even fix your leaking public pools.

      Wives and ladies would have to stay at home to raise the kids and do household chores, which means the men would have to work twice as hard to earn a living. You would have to clean up your own toilets, do your ironing, or wipe your babies’ butts after they do their business.

      No one would care for your elderly parents as well – you have to do it, along with juggling your long hours at work, managing your own family, plus keeping your house clean.

      Plus, without immigration, Singapore would be an aging population like Japan. Birth rate in Singapore would be negative because women would think super hard about having to raise the kids + take care of the house + continuing their career without any support. Even with maids being available, many women still think twice about children – let alone without maid’s help.

      So think about it before making a statement that foreign workers just make Singapore has more problem.

  11. A little too late for replies, but I thoroughly agree with this passage. Well, I am glad that there are people concerned for the welfare of foreign workers, but I think that the reason why Singaporeans are unable to accept these foreign workers because they really pose as a major problem in our society. Nonetheless, it is still impossible to have a society without foreign workers, so it would be best if Singaporeans learn to accept their existence in our country.

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