Thursday, September 4, 2008

Foreign Workers? Not In My Backyard

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 3, 2008

Residents of Serangoon Gardens sign petition against converting an unused school in private estate into foreign workers' quarters

FOREIGN workers? Not in our neighbourhood.

More than 600 residents of Serangoon Gardens, a private estate in the north-east, have signed a petition against converting an unused school there into a dormitory for foreign workers.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) confirmed that it is assessing whether Serangoon Gardens Technical School can be converted into quarters for foreign workers, although no decision has been made yet.

The school in Burghley Drive has been vacant for about four years and can possibly house 1,000 workers.

When residents of the estate, which has more than 2,000 homes, heard about the news earlier this week, a petition was started by the residents' committee asking the authorities to reconsider.

The one-page petition said the move would 'create security and social problems and spoil the ambience of the estate'.

'I signed the petition immediately and got 80 of my friends to sign it too,' said retired teacher S. Raja, 69.

MP for Aljunied GRC Lim Hwee Hua said it is 'good that residents are speaking out with an interest' on the issue and encouraged them to give their feedback, which she would convey to MND.

The residents will be meeting Mrs Lim and fellow MP George Yeo, who is also the Foreign Minister, today as part of a dialogue series and will raise the issue.

Especially concerned are the residents who live opposite the former school.

They said that security was their main worry. Many were afraid that their maids might befriend the foreign workers and invite them into their houses while they are out.

Already, with a few construction sites and a small number of workers in the area, there have been problems, they said.

Housewife S.K. Lim, 70, said her sister, who also lives in the neighbourhood, had forgotten to lock her car one evening. A foreign worker was caught trying to steal her CashCard and other items in the car.

Sales executive Josephine Ng, 46, said she has also seen her neighbour's maid letting a man out of the house when her neighbours were on holiday.

'My husband tried to confront the stranger but he ran away,' she said.

Residents were also concerned about loitering, alcoholism and congestion problems along Burghley Drive.

Mrs Raja noted how residents in Little India complained about workers sitting in the void decks drinking and making noise.

'I hope it will not happen in Serangoon Gardens,' she said.

Another retired teacher, Mrs L. Raja, 69, was concerned about taking the bus on Sundays.

'Sometimes, I take the bus to the food centre. With 1,000 workers living here, there would be so many of us using the buses,' she said.

Other residents expected weekday congestion to increase. They pointed out how the narrow roads in the estate are currently packed with parents sending their children to the CHIJ Our Lady of Good Counsel in Burghley Drive.

'During peak hours, the jam is bad already. Can you imagine if there are lorries picking up and dropping off workers?' said Ms Ng.

MND told The Straits Times that while 11 new dormitory sites providing 65,000 additional bed spaces for foreign workers had been released, these will take time to build, so existing buildings will be converted into temporary quarters. The school is one such building being considered.

The ministry is at a preliminary stage of assessing all available properties, and will consider factors like the site, competing uses for the property and residents' feedback.

It said that it sought residents' understanding if they find more foreign workers living in their midst and added that employers and dormitory operators also had to educate the foreigners on the Singapore way of life.

Said Mrs L. Raja: 'It is not that we are not grateful to foreign workers. It is just that we do not want any problems.'

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