Monday, November 26, 2007

Foreign workers causing social problem in Singapore

Straits Times reported on Sunday “Foreign workers at void decks leaves residents seething”. I concur with the report as I am one of the frustrated residents living in the area. In the report, residents staying along Jurong West Street 61 complained that groups of Indian foreign workers have been gathering at the void deck of Blk 651A during weekends, drinking beer bought at the nearby mini-mart and are normally quite rowdy and when they get drunk, they would urinate or sleep wherever they like and might even get into fights among themselves and with residents.

However, what Straits Times reported is only part of the big social problem that we face in the area. I shall illustrate my experience here.

At the end of the corridor of my flat unit, there is a unit which is occupied by a group of Indian foreign workers (They could be Sri Lankans but I can’t confirm as I don’t communicate with them at all). It is supposedly rented by their employers to house the 6 to 8 of them.

What irks me is not them being Indians (I am not a racist) but the problem is that they are usually quite noisy at night. As they are on weird work shifts, probably starting at around 3 or 4pm, they would normally not sleep before 3am. They would watch TV and VCD or talk loudly in the house. Sometimes, they would even walk out of the flat and start talking on their mobile phones during the wee hours.

You might wonder why we don’t make a complaint to HDB which, as far as I know, rents out flats under 2-year contracts to employers of foreign workers. Yes we did, few years ago and we managed to get rid of the previous occupants because they were even worse – some walking around in the house in underwear. We are already thinking of complaining to HDB about this batch of foreign workers because we are suspecting them of allowing unauthorised workers to stay in the same house but we are keeping watch over the situation as we do not want any over-reactions.

Apart from the problem at my block, Boon Lay Interchange, which is near the reported Blk 651A, is another location where you would see foreign workers congregating in public places. They do not gather in small groups of 3 to fives like in the Blk 651A situation. The problem at the interchange is somewhat more serious.

During the night of every weekend or public holiday, hundreds or may be a thousand of foreign workers (mostly if not all Indian nationals) congregate over a large area stretching from the rectangular open space in front of the MRT Station to the periphery of the interchange and the overhead bridge leading to the new park which is currently under-construction (See the picture obtained from They normally do not drink there but the amount of litter they leave behind is a lot. You can take a look at the areas on Monday mornings. Really unsightly and unhygenic.

I am trying to heed PM Lee’s advice to be understanding towards foreign workers but this social problem involving foreign workers in Singapore has been affecting us for years and there seems to be no perfect solution to our frustrating problem. Repeated complaints to MPs do not work. So we are in a Catch 22 situation where on one hand, we take in more foreign workers (estimated to be 50,000 more over the next few years) to boost our economic development but on the other hand, we tax-paying Singaporeans are forced to share more of our common spaces with foreign workers who behave so differently from the majority of us.

Educating them would also not have the intended effect as most of them are on short-term contracts so when a batch of foreign workers finally learns our social habits, it’s time for them to leave and the next batch which knows nuts about our culture and habits takes over.

Voting against the government to show our displease in the poor handling of this situation would not work either as the areas affected are only a fraction of West Coast GRC and Hong Kah GRC. Worse still, oppositions don’t seem to be interested in the western GRCs. Seriously, so what can we do other than shifting house?


tHemUxIcboX said...

yeah~ I have the same problem when I lived in my mum's flat in Taman Jurong.

those foreign workers fight, drink and stare at women

God I dun feel safe returning to my own home. They even pound spices as late as 11pm~! Then I wrote a complain email to HDB, CC to MP .. and they did take quick action though its too late since that bunch of people moved out before they came.

There was once a drunked china man slept outside my door half naked~! I called the police and they treated as a small case with no urgency although I was almost late for work. ;(

James Chia said...

Exactly. It's not just a problem in Jurong West. Boon Lay, Taman Jurong, Jurong East, Paya Lebar too have the same problem.

Anonymous said...

Just some quick rebuttals.
1. "...those foreign workers fight, drink and stare at women..."
Local men stare at women too. It's human nature. Try walking through Joo Chiat or Geylang in a slightly sexy outfit and see how the local men react.

2."...There was once a drunked china man slept outside my door half naked~!..."
Singapore is very hot and humid. A drunk man obviously is too tired to realise that his shirt is off. You see men in swimming pools and at the beach half naked, so what's the big deal?

I understand your fears, but try to rationalise them a bit, and you'll realise that the fears are often not as bad as you think.

James Chia said...

To be fair, it is true that some Singaporeans have the same 'habits' too but I think as more foreign workers are imported at an increased rate, we are seeing a rise in such social problems. It's unnecessary and I hope the authorities consider this seriously in their economic development plan.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! They were walking around their house IN UNDERWEAR! This must be the end of the world. Because, for me, peeping into someone's house and seeing underwear, that is like hell and damnation right here upon us.

mrbiao said...

James, I agree completely with you. I'm also quite disturbed at some of the foreign workers' behavior, but I got labelled as being xenophobic, racist, arrogant, etc when I blogged about it.

And the same thing happens at Jurong East MRT. I know some of their behavior are considered OK in their home countries, but my thinking is that since they are in another country, they should try to adapt to the norms here.

Either they have to learn themselves... which is difficult due to language barriers and pre-conditioned behavior, or the government should take some initiative to ensure these workers are educated about local social norms when they come here.

Some people then told me to learn to get used to them instead of wanting them to change... but I believe visitors have to accept our culture before they expect us to accept theirs. There are some things we can perhaps accept (like how they like to congregate together to have picnics in open fields), but when they abuse that privilege (of not being labelled as illegal gatherings) and start to dirty the place and leave litter, then its not right.

Anonymous said...

even more problems at klang lane. where the entire roads of klang lane /belilios road and the hdb void decks are swamped with indians lying on the floor with food and hard liquor.

yet no police come to arrest them for illegal gathering.

Anonymous_X said...

google for "illegal gathering" or even google for "unlawful assembly", and then you'll understand why they're not arrested by the police.

banlhi said...

check out 671 and 672 klang lane.
more action by our indians and banglas foreign workers. drinking beer and alcohol and lying on the floors of hdb void decks at klang lane and terrorising hdb residents at belilios road , klang lane.

mobile phone lines are down as well on weekends. even if u using singtel, no calls can be made due to jam of lines.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is a problem. They (foreign workers) are making Singapore clean and green. In public place, they can gather, making social contact. Every party or gathering, eg. national day parade, most of Singaporean are littering and at the end of party, these foreign workers need to clean up all these rubbish. If a lady sleep naked in her bedroom and someone (neighbour) peeping her, whose fault is it, lady or neighbour? Anyway, I am a Singaporean and don't forget most (Singaporean's) fore-fathers are foreigner.

Grumpy woman said...

This seems to be a very common problem... I reside near the Race Course MRT track, and come sunday, the field is packed with "picnic makers". On the weekdays the void deck and foot paths are cluttered with foreign workers, drinking and eating dinner on the path way just below the block. With no public toilets around... guess what happens? the walls are used as stand up urinals.

The areas below the flats are infested with Giant Roaches, Rats and Pungent smells.

Endless jabbering and chatting go on into the night and we thought that day times were noisy.

HDB / Town Council / Nea / Police do not control nor take steps to resolve these issues. Let me explain why... 2 ways - the ball are being pushed or Penalty is imposed on the residents:
1) It is under the care of XYZ department. AND of Cos XYZ department will state no it is under ABC
2) penalty will be imposed by increasing the Conservancy charges.

Utterly frustrated.

Wonder how it will feel if any of the top 200 Singaporeans were to live under such conditions.

righteous singaporean said...

malaysia has banned indian illegal workers . why is this place still so slow to react ?

have we forgotten that singaporean girls were molested by these illegal workers indians and banglas at orchard roads during the foam party . where indian workers sprayed foam at the girls and molested them ? Do we want to wait for a rape to happen as a precedence before action is taken

Anonymous said...

I am an Indian came down to Singapore for a short period on a project for my company.But from my experienc I understand, its not only Indian construction workers who are being treated by the Singaporeans this way, but all from the subcontinent seem to be. Because I am experiencing this on a daily basis on MRT, Super market or even in a pub.Since Singaporeans won't take up the construction or manual jobs which pays less the country need foreign labourers.The foreign labourers are brought up in an entirely different social and economic system.So instead of trying to change them,Singapore can stop recruiting them and locals can take up those jobs which build them shelter or contributes to the economy.

conscience said...

Despite all the comments/complaints, can we afford not to have foreign workers? Can we do the jobs which the foreign workers are doing? If the answer is no, why don't we do something about it, like educating them? If most of you out there feel that their behaviour is "ugly", there are some singaporeans who are worst, i.e. the workers' employment agencies and employers! The agencies and employers charged the workers exorbitant sum, as high as $8-10k to give them a $600-1000 job and work 10-12 hrs a day. The employers are already not paying a single cent to agencies to hire the workers, instead they demand the agencies to get the workers to pay extra $3-5k to them as a "pre-requisite" to hire them. Due to housing shortage, many landlords take advantage of the situation and charge exorbitant rental, e.g. $300 per pax for 6 pax in 1 bedroom! Dear Singaporeans, who is uglier?

Melissa Kwee said...

Dear Conscience and previous Commentators,

Thanks for your notes. This is a very useful discussion to have. In the end, I too have also found it futile to compare ugliness-es: the local Singaporean agents and employers who exploit foreign workers' ignorance and desire for a better life with exorbitant fees and charges or the rowdy crowd of homesick and bored migrants who get drunk, urinate on our walls, and oogle women. It seems we are both rather ugly.

In the same instance, you can also see and chose to focus on the redemptive aspects: the caring and compassionate Singaporeans who have lent a hand to care for and support men and women from neighbouring countries who have been cheated, physically, verbally or sexually abused by employers here ( or started programmes to help them upgrade their skills (, and then there are upstanding foreign workers who work hard for us, take up classes to improve their skills, often single-handedly provide for many loved ones back home.

In the end and contrary to much popular opinion, there is little that divides 'us' and 'them' that is not in our minds and hearts. If we are truthful, we are all racist - we discriminate to make sense of the world. But this should not mean that we need not strive for greater understanding and more peaceful coexistence. If we look at the diversity that is Us and Them, we will see that we are both 'Good' and 'Bad' in different parts.

Perhaps we should start looking at joint-action to promote self-help in our neighbourhoods, if there are no urinals, let's find a way to get them put in. If there are no recreational facilities, can we make some available or ask the govt to set aside a proper budget allocation to offer skill development classes, recreational facilities and other prosocial or productive ways spend time.

Solutions need to be created where we can all take some responsibility instead of being frustrated over who is to blame.

Anonymous said...

the singaporean general public need to be informed of what is happening in klang lane block 671 and 672 HDB flats.

many foreign workers have invaded this area and causing social problem. making noise, shouting , getting drunk and fighting over staring incidents.

The reporters should come over and let all singaporeans know of this problem

Residents have paid large amounts of money to hdb to stay in hdb areas and pay conservancy charges and taxes to enjoy proper housing.
why do workers enjoy these without paying