More recreation centres for foreign workers better than weekdays off: Bosses

Workers playing street soccer at a recreation centre in Jurong West. There are plans to build more such leisure facilities to add to the four now in operation. -- ST FILE PHOTO
Workers playing street soccer at a recreation centre in Jurong West. There are plans to build more such leisure facilities to add to the four now in operation. -- ST FILE PHOTO

Getting foreign workers to take a day off on a weekday instead of Sunday will not go down well with them as Sunday is the only common day off for foreign workers, and they use the time to meet friends who work for other companies, said construction and marine industry bosses.

Instead, these employers said, the Manpower Ministry's plans for more recreation centres would work better in preventing large groups of foreign workers from gathering at popular areas such as Little India. Such congregations have become a concern after the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

Besides the addition of leisure facilities, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin suggested in Parliament on Monday that companies look into spacing out days off for foreign workers. But employers told The Straits Times it would be hard to get firms to coordinate rest days because of different work schedules.

For example, some workers do not have fixed days off. Not all rest on Sundays, as some work on weekends to earn up to double their daily wages, said Mr Lim Tek Seng, director of SPG Marine. "Whether the workers get a day off depends on whether they ask for one, and if I have enough manpower for that day," he said.

Bosses said a better way to prevent overcrowding in popular areas was to have more leisure centres for the men instead. They can spend their rest days there rather than head to Little India to use amenities such as remittance services and supermarkets.

On Monday, Mr Tan revealed in Parliament the plans for more recreation centres to add to the four existing ones. But he did not say how many would be built or where they would be located.

Bosses and dormitory operators said the existing recreation centres serve the needs of most foreign workers as they are in Jurong, Woodlands and Kaki Bukit, where most dorms are. But new centres can be built farther east in places such as Changi, where a few dorms are located, they said.

"There should be recreation centres across the island so that workers do not need to travel far distances to go to one," said Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, which runs six dorms and a recreation centre in Jurong West. He said it would be challenging to find plots of land big enough to host recreation centres, which usually come with cricket fields, as well as mini-shopping centres.

He suggested that smaller centres that provide essential amenities, such as remittance services, TV rooms and football fields, be built a stone's throw from dorms.

Foreign workers interviewed welcomed the plans for more leisure centres, which they said should screen TV shows from India and Bangladesh and provide wireless Internet access. Marine worker Supramaniam Rajesh, 32, who is from India, said: "We feel like we are home when we watch cable TV shows from our country and chat with our family members online."

ameltan@sph.com.sg