Thursday, September 18, 2008

Temporary Housing Sites Still Needed

Source : The Strait Times, Sep 18, 2008

THE foreign worker population here went up by 102,000 last year, double the jump of 55,000 a year ago.

And with major contruction works lined up, a let-up is unlikely.

The influx is ruffling a growing number of feathers too: Complaints relating to illegal housing of foreign workers numbered 300 last year, but the number has already shot past 300 so far this year.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said yesterday that restricting the number of foreign workers is not an option for the next couple of years if the economy is to grow.

The question is how they can be housed properly and, until more permanent housing becomes available in 2011, temporary facilities have to be created from nowvacant state buildings.

As at the end of last year, there were 577,000 foreign workers here, excluding maids. Of these, 180,000, or one-third, were doing construction work.

An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 are housed in illegal accommodations or living in conditions that are 'not ideal', Mr Mah noted.

Given that minimum standards of public health should be provided where they live, he listed four ways to house them.

# Residential housing: in rented public housing or in private residential developments.

# On-site living: on the grounds of or close to large construction projects.

# Purpose-built dormitories: sited further away from residential areas or within or near industrial estates.

# Factory-converted dormitories: Factory owners can convert 40 per cent of their industrial premises into dormitories. Guidelines have also been relaxed to allow such facilities to operate as commercial dorms.

But he noted that pursuing these options still leaves a housing shortage for foreign workers in the short term. This makes it necessary to identify sites for temporary accommodation lasting two to five years. Ten sites are being explored for such use.

But even if all these sites are converted into housing for workers, it will still not totally meet the demand, said Mr Mah.

He stressed that while efforts would be made to house workers in ways that would minimise noise and inconvenience to nearby residents, it would not be socially desirable or possible to totally segregate them.

With Singapore's limited land area, creating huge foreign workers' communities like those in the Middle East would not be possible, he added.

Does the lack of housing for foreign workers reflect poor planning?

Mr Mah said projects such as the two integrated resorts needed construction workers, and large investments calling for huge factories also required process workers.

'Yes, we do some planning but the build-up of the spaces requires quite a lot of lead time so we could not anticipate that...To call it poor planning, to call it one of the problems of success because we were so successful, we did not anticipate this kind of issue.'

One option, he said, was to look into building self-contained complexes or campuses that house up to 20,000 workers.

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