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Planned laws on foreign-worker dorms ‘infringe personal space’

SINGAPORE — Non-government organisations advocating for foreign workers’ welfare here are concerned that the designation of foreign workers dormitories as public spaces — to deal with drunken behaviour — are infringing on what little space this group can call their own in Singapore.

A foreign worker dormitory at Mandai Estate. TODAY file photo

A foreign worker dormitory at Mandai Estate. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Non-government organisations advocating for foreign workers’ welfare here are concerned that the designation of foreign workers dormitories as public spaces — to deal with drunken behaviour — are infringing on what little space this group can call their own in Singapore.

The move, they said, unnecessarily singles out foreign workers and further reinforces stereotypes some may hold about them following the Little India riot in December 2013.

Under the provision — which is part of the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill tabled on Monday — a person who is drunk and unable to take care of himself within these dormitories could be charged and, if convicted, be fined up to S$1,000, jailed up to a month, or both.

Executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME) Jolovan Wham said: “I don’t think it’s fair. It’s like we’re singling them (foreign workers) out, stereotyping that they need to be controlled just because of the Little India riot.

“I’ll understand if the dormitories have their own rules and regulations such as curfews or anything like that, but to turn it into a law that comes with fines and jail terms, that is very harsh,” he said, adding that dormitories do not need such laws to manage drunken behaviour.

Transient Workers Count Too executive committee member Debbie Fordyce noted that with the proposed ban on selling takeaway alcohol and drinking in public spaces after 10.30pm islandwide, workers have little space left to unwind with a drink.

Mr Wham added: “We have homes to go back to drink, but the dormitories are the foreign workers’ homes yet they are subjected to the proposed rules, where there might be checks.”

While laws do not forbid drinking on dormitory premises — some dormitories have beer gardens — the threat of a hefty fine for drunkenness would cast a pall over the residents.

“Many migrant workers earn less than S$1,000 a month. A fine of S$1,000 would be more than a month’s worth of salary, and that would be particularly harsh given their families depend on that money for basic needs,” said Ms Fordyce.

Mr Mah Tien Guo, who has been working in Singapore as a construction worker for six years, told TODAY that foreign workers like him would occasionally drink at their dormitories after work and rarely to the point of intoxication.

Said the 45-year-old from China: “I am not a heavy drinker who gets drunk all the time; I just drink sometimes after a long day at work with my friends.”

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