Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two Toa Payoh blocks converted to dorms

TWO Housing Board blocks in Toa Payoh have been converted into dormitories for foreign employees at Resorts World Sentosa.

Blocks 32 and 33 in Toa Payoh Lorong 6 were to be demolished as part of redevelopment plans until a few months ago, when dozens of croupiers, hotel service staff and casino pit supervisors started moving in.

It is estimated that there are more than 300 units in the two blocks. According to interviews with tenants, each flat houses four to six people who each pay between $140 and $260.

When asked about the length of the leases, the HDB would only say it is a private short-term arrangement between Resorts World and its managing agent, EM Services.

Resorts World said it provides accommodation to its foreign employees working and training in preparation for the integrated resort’s opening next year ‘to help reduce their stress and anxiety of relocating overseas’. It also ensures that its foreign staff enjoy a similar lifestyle to their Singaporean colleagues’. It did not state the total number of foreign employees who have moved in so far.

When The Straits Times visited the blocks yesterday, the flats were clean and had been given a fresh coat of paint.

Current tenants said the flats came with basic furniture, such as dining tables and beds, as well as appliances like washing machines and refrigerators. The bedrooms are air-conditioned.

Many found the accommodation comfortable, and the central location convenient. They each pay about $100 per month for a round-trip bus service that ferries them to and from their workplace in Sentosa.

‘It’s not bad. We like it. It’s easy to get to work from here,’ said croupier Low Chui Leng, 25, from Kuala Lumpur.

The employees hail from South-east Asian countries as well as China.

On one floor, Filipinos chatted in Tagalog as they got ready to start their shifts, while on another floor, Malaysian staff were cooking lunch.

To minimise friction with local residents, the workers said they keep their noise levels down after 9pm. At least one corridor wall has a sign reminding tenants to be quiet.

Resorts World said it chose a location that ‘facilitates good interaction between the local community and foreign talent’. When asked if they mingle with local residents, tenants said they keep mostly to themselves as most of them work odd hours. Some leave for work around noon and return only at midnight.

Their situation – a foreign worker dorm in a local neighbourhood – is similar to that in Serangoon Gardens, which has a hostel housing 100 foreign workers. Unlike residents there who kicked up a fuss, however, most Toa Payoh residents interviewed said they do not mind their new neighbours, and there has been no conflict.

A few who live in neighbouring blocks had gripes though.

Madam Xu, a 49-year-old housewife, has seen some of the women walking around in just their underwear.

‘It’s not nice when you have kids living around here,’ she said.

However, most residents share the views of cleaner Rose Laini, 53. ‘Generally, they behave themselves and they don’t cause any trouble. I’m okay with them,’ she said.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of migrant worker rights group Home, said the residents’ acceptance is a good sign. ‘It shows that Singaporeans can be tolerant of foreign workers living in their midst.’

Source: Straits Times, 19 Dec 2009

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