SINGAPORE: Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a non-profit organization advocating for equitable treatment of migrant workers in Singapore, recently highlighted the challenges faced by workers residing at a dormitory along Tanah Merah Coast Road.
These workers must rely on shuttle buses to access the nearest public transport, which is 5km away from their dormitory.
Alex Au, Vice-President of TWC2, shared that these workers sometimes endure long waits for the shuttle bus, with intervals as long as 35 to 45 minutes. In unfortunate cases, they may have to wait up to two hours before securing a seat on the shuttle.
If they miss the bus, their only alternative is a 5km walk to the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, from where they can access public transport.
Workers staying at a dormitory “in the middle of nowhere”
In a video posted on Friday (Sept 29), Alex Au referred to the dormitory, known as Changi Coastal Dormitory, as being “in the middle of nowhere.” He highlighted its lack of medical facilities and its significant distance from public transportation options.
Changi Coastal Dormitory is operated by Changi East Dorm Dwall, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hua Tiong Global Limited.
Located within a secure zone, Alex Au emphasized that the dormitory’s accessibility is severely compromised, indicating a planning oversight.
“To get out of the dormitory, the men have to take a shuttle bus to the very terminal where they can access public transport”, he said.
There is a shuttle bus only once every 35 or 45 minutes and there are days when the men have to wait up to two hours before they can get a seat
on the shuttle.
The video footage depicts long queues of migrant workers waiting for buses.
S$1 per bus trip
Mr Au also noted that for a dormitory accommodating around 10,000 residents, the shuttle service appears inadequate, and the migrant workers have been charged S$1 for each trip since the beginning of the year.
“if they can’t get onto the shuttle bus they have to walk about 5 km to the ferry terminal it takes one hour,” Mr Au emphasized.
Moreover, Mr Au drew attention to the complete absence of trees and shade, as evident in the video.
“The dormitory should never have been given approval to be built there. We would not build housing for Singaporeans where there are no amenities and no transport, ” Mr Au asserted.
Mr Au stressed that the cost of this oversight should not fall upon the workers but rather on planning authorities, employers, and the dormitory operator.
“The dormitory operator or the employers who choose to put their workers there should bear the cost of making life easier for the men.”
“The workers themselves should not have to bear the cost of others’ mistakes, by having to walk in a hot sun, wasting time waiting for the bus, or paying for the shuttle ride.”
In the video description, TWC2 pointed out that the dormitory operator significantly contributed to Hua Tiong’s gross profit of S$13.6 million (US$9.93 million) in 2022.
Workers voice concerns over public transport access
A screenshot of Facebook comments, shared in the video, revealed that some workers are grappling with difficulties when it comes to accessing public transport.
Several individuals emphasized the gravity of this issue, highlighting that it poses a significant challenge for the workers. They find it exceedingly tough to venture outside, especially during emergencies.
One worker shared a specific incident where the consequences of missing the bus after 10:45 a.m. left them in a state of uncertainty. While some lorry drivers extended their assistance, others did not, creating a dilemma for the workers.
Additionally, a worker recounted a personal experience from two months ago when he fell ill and needed to visit Bedok Polyclinic, allegedly waited until 5:00 p.m. for the bus since the afternoon.
Migrant workers’ concerns at the dormitory persist for months
Upon reviewing feedback about the dormitory, it becomes evident that the complaints from migrant workers are not new; instead, they have persisted for months without resolution.
The most prominent grievance, as evident in Google reviews of Changi Coastal Dormitory, is undeniably related to transportation issues.
Numerous residents have voiced their dissatisfaction, reporting long waits for buses, inadequate transportation services, poor management practices, haphazard room additions, and subpar catering facilities.
A comment even drew a comparison between the dormitory and a prison, pointing out the absence of public transport facilities and confirming that the walking distance to the nearest public transport is indeed 5km.
Intriguingly, another resident of the dormitory shared their perspective, awarding it a modest three-star rating primarily due to transportation woes.
He lamented the limited bus schedule, revealing that only three to four buses operated in the morning and evening. Any arrivals in between these times left residents stranded at the checkpoint for hours, during which restroom use was restricted, and walking was prohibited.
“Second, we do not receive any letter medicine directly, it only comes to the check post. For that, we have to ask the driver one day (in advance) and go to the check point.”
He proposed that bus number 35 from SBS Transit could be rerouted to pass by the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and include a stop at the dormitory.
A worker criticized the dormitory, labeling it as the “worst in Singapore.” He cited issues such as unreliable Wi-Fi, expensive prices, a recent shuttle bus fee, and restrictions on taxi and two-wheeler access, expressing frustration with the overall living conditions and treatment of workers in the facility.
The dormitory operator dismissed complaints, compared Sunday queues to peak commuting hours for Singaporeans
Coastal Dormitory initiated its operations in the second quarter of 2021 and boasts a capacity to house up to 10,400 residents, as indicated in Hua Tiong’s 2022 annual report.
As reported by Singapore’s TODAY media, Coastal Dormitory attributed the lengthy queues to workers returning to the dormitory concurrently on Sundays, resulting in heightened demand for the bus service.
The dormitory operator defended its stance by drawing a parallel to Singaporeans commuting during the morning and evening rush hours, stating, “this is similar to Singaporeans going to work at peak time in the morning and evening after work.”
Furthermore, it clarified that the majority of residents rely on company-arranged transportation to travel to and from the dormitory.
“The bus service is another additional service provided to those residents who would like to go out without their company transport,” it said.
In terms of medical emergencies, Coastal Dormitory assured that its staff are well-prepared to offer assistance, emphasizing that this aligns with their standard operating procedures, with immediate ambulance access available in case of emergencies.
Regarding the amenities provided within the dormitories, the operator contended that Coastal Dormitory offers ample space and comprehensive facilities, including a gym and provision shops.
The operator noted that negative complaints possibly stem from a minority of residents who express dissatisfaction and a preference not to reside at the dormitory.
“These complaints stem from a minority of dissatisfied residents who prefer not to stay here,” it added.
Coastal Dormitory also mentioned that it actively engages with its residents to collect feedback on weekend bus usage before considering adjustments to the service frequency.
Additionally, the operator claimed that the bus service experiences minimal utilization on regular weekdays.
However, in addition to the transportation issues, the operator has not addressed other concerns raised by migrant workers.
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