Workers evicted from shophouse because of unpaid rent

Landlord says employer owes $20k, some workers say they are owed pay

Workers for a local company, Semanto Construction, were evicted from their quarters in Geylang on Wednesday after their employer failed to pay the rent.

Construction worker Huq Md Aminul was applying the finishing touches to a door he was building when he received a call from a roommate at about 2.30pm that he was about to be locked out of the shophouse where he had lived for three months.

"I was shocked," said the 38-year-old Bangladeshi national, who has been in Singapore for about five months. "My roommate said I had 15 minutes to reach the shophouse and pack my things."

He rushed into a cab outside his Bartley worksite with two colleagues, hoping to retrieve his passport and laptop, but it was too late.

A notice, saying that some $20,870 in rent was owed to the landlord, was pasted on the closed door.

Semanto Construction, formerly known as Kimpo Building Engineering, was registered in 2013, according to Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority records.

Attempts to reach the current owner, Mr Mostak Ahmed, were unsuccessful but he was known to be in discussions with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) last night.

It is understood he paid just one month of the rent.

An employee of the landlord who requested not to be named told The Straits Times: "We followed market practice and wrote to them about five times. We also called them countless times.

"We consulted with our lawyers and realised that we were left with no other choice."

The workers waited outside the door until about 9pm, when a representative from the landlord arrived to speak with their employer.

"The representative said if our boss could pay him some of the rent, he can let us go in but our boss did not give him money," said Mr Aminul.

Workers described their living conditions as crowded. About eight people, sleeping in double- decker beds, shared one room. There are eight of these rooms and two bathrooms in the shophouse unit, said Mr Aminul.

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

The workers said some of them spent the night walking around, while others slept in the MRT station or nearby basketball court.

Mr Aminul added: "We did not go to work because we had not bathed or brushed our teeth. We also did not sleep well."

Workers said the landlord let them back in the house yesterday to pack their bags. Last night, their employer began moving them to a dormitory in Tuas.

Besides unpaid rent, workers also claimed the company had not paid them for about four months. At least eight said the last time they received their salaries was in January but it was for work they did last year.

One 44-year-old Bangladeshi worker, who declined to be named, said: "Boss always promise us 'tomorrow, tomorrow', but tomorrow never comes."

MOM said it was alerted yesterday about a contractual dispute between Semanto and a private property owner.

The ministry said it was "working with the employer to ensure that the workers' upkeep is not affected by the dispute, and is also investigating the employer for failure to house the workers in approved accommodation and any non-payment of salaries".

awcw@sph.com.sg