Thursday, September 18, 2008

More Foreign Worker Dorms In Pipeline

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

WITH more foreign workers expected in Singapore, the government is looking for more places to house them. It has released 11 sites for purpose-built dormitories since February last year and is studying others for temporary quarters.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan yesterday underscored the importance of foreign workers to economic growth, be it in construction, manufacturing or service industries.

Construction demand, for instance, came to $16-17 billion in 2006 and is expected to reach $27-30 billion this year, he said.

'We've deferred some programmes . . . (but) we still need the housing programmes, we still want to build our schools and hospitals, and our MRT projects must go ahead,' Mr Mah said.

For the economy to keep growing, restricting the number of foreign workers is not an option right now, he said. Nor is it possible to segregate foreign workers from residents because of space constraints.

'We will have to strike this balance between economic needs and social issues that come with a large number of foreign workers,' Mr Mah said.

The government, employers and the community will have to find ways to facilitate co-existence.

The 11 sites for purpose-built dormitories have 30-year leases and may be ready by 2010 or 2011 to provide up to 65,000 new beds.

While these sites are being developed, temporary dormitories will be needed to ease a short-term accommodation crunch. These dormitories can be built on vacant state land or converted from vacant state property and may carry leases of three to five years.

Fewer than 10 temporary sites are under consideration, one of which is Serangoon Gardens Technical School. The government is assessing the sites and will consult Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders if they appear suitable. So far, no decision has been made on any site.

There were about 757,000 foreign workers in Singapore in December last year. Excluding 180,000 foreign domestic maids who stay with their employers, the remaining 577,000 non-domestic foreign workers have to be accommodated.

And more non-domestic foreign workers could arrive in the next few years. The 577,000 last December was 21 per cent more than the 475,000 in December 2006 and 37 per cent more than the 420,000 in December 2005.

Singapore now has 25 purpose-built dormitories providing 95,000 bed spaces.

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