50 workers found crammed into two condo units

In two condo units in Selegie Centre, about 50 workers live out of their luggage amid damp and soiled clothes, and sleep on grimy floors without mattresses or in bunk beds crammed together.
In two condo units in Selegie Centre, about 50 workers live out of their luggage amid damp and soiled clothes, and sleep on grimy floors without mattresses or in bunk beds crammed together.ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG
In two condo units in Selegie Centre, about 50 workers live out of their luggage amid damp and soiled clothes, and sleep on grimy floors without mattresses or in bunk beds crammed together.
In two condo units in Selegie Centre, about 50 workers live out of their luggage amid damp and soiled clothes, and sleep on grimy floors without mattresses or in bunk beds crammed together.ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG
In two condo units in Selegie Centre, about 50 workers live out of their luggage amid damp and soiled clothes, and sleep on grimy floors without mattresses or in bunk beds crammed together.
In two condo units in Selegie Centre, about 50 workers live out of their luggage amid damp and soiled clothes, and sleep on grimy floors without mattresses or in bunk beds crammed together.ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG

Many sleep on the floor amid filth; some say they have not been paid

One unit is the size of a typical two-bedroom condominium apartment and could house a family of about four comfortably.

But two of these units in a condo along Selegie Road were, instead, housing about 50 construction workers from Bangladesh and India, a spot check by the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) and The Straits Times found yesterday.

Rotting food, soiled clothes and bags were strewn on the grimy floors of the units located in Selegie Centre near Little India.

The men slept shoulder to shoulder on the floor or on wooden boards along the corridors outside the apartments. The walls were stained brown and cabinets were broken, while a damp stench permeated the hallways.

When asked if they thought the conditions were bad or unbearable, the men, nervous from the spot check, could only reply: "I don't know."

According to Urban Redevelopment Authority guidelines, rented residential properties can house a maximum of eight people, regardless of size.

Yesterday's spot check came after the MWC received a call on its hotline on Tuesday afternoon from a worker.

He said that his company, Harri Construction & Maintenance, and some of the company's sub-contractors were putting workers up in poor housing and owed them several months of salaries.

MWC executive director Bernard Menon said: "Our staff who answered the call sensed that there was an urgent need to look into the case. Our chairman, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, directed us to do a spot check later in the night."

Mr Menon added: "Upon our inspection, we found that the living conditions of the workers are unacceptable. We urge MOM (Ministry of Manpower) to take serious action against the employer. This kind of behaviour cannot be condoned."

MOM officers went down to the scene later and took down the particulars of all the workers there.

An MOM spokesman said: "Our initial assessment is that the units are overcrowded and we are investigating several employers for failing to ensure that their foreign employees have acceptable accommodation."

The spokesman added that the ministry is also looking into the claims of some workers who said they were owed salaries.

Employers found guilty of failing to provide acceptable accommodation can be fined up to $10,000, and/or jailed for up to 12 months.

The MWC team also visited a makeshift hut in Geylang Lorong 8, where some 16 Indian national workers from Harri Construction & Maintenance are living.

The zinc-roof hut is located at the backyard of an apartment block, built above an underground sewage tank.

Some of the firm's workers say they are Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass holders but are paid only $900 a month. The salary requirement for S Pass holders is at least $2,200 and at least $3,300 for EP holders.

"My agent promised me a salary of $4,800 a month. But I get only $900 and my boss hasn't paid me for many months. I have been cheated," said a worker who has a degree in engineering from India.

Harri Construction & Maintenance manager Nallusamy Narayanan dismissed the workers' claims when contacted by The Straits Times.

Mr Nallusamy said the workers are unhappy because they want three days off a week but he offered them only a weekly rest day.

He added: "I want them to stay in proper dormitories. But they want to stay in Selegie because it is near Little India. They like Geylang, because you know, there are girls there and they can drink."

Mr Nallusamy, a Singapore permanent resident and Indian national, said he moved 14 workers temporarily to the apartments in Selegie Centre this week. He insisted there are usually only 15 workers in each apartment.

"They were living in a shophouse in Tanjong Katong but they drank and caused trouble for residents. So I moved them to Selegie for a few days only," he said.

He confirmed that some of his workers had complained to MOM that he owed them salaries. "But later, I paid them their salaries. I don't owe them any money now."

ameltan@sph.com.sg