Foreign workers sleeping, drinking on roads spark concerns , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Foreign workers sleeping, drinking on roads spark concerns

Motorists driving near workers’ dormitories have flagged concerns over migrant workers eating and drinking alcohol at night by the roads near their residences, saying the men are at risk if an errant driver mounts a kerb.

On May 12, 2024, The Straits Times spotted a migrant worker fast asleep on Jalan Lekar, off Old Choa Chu Kang Road, at 10pm as motorists drove around him.

He refused to budge even when two of his friends tried to rouse him, and moved only after 10 minutes of shaking and yelling in Tamil.

About 30m away, motorists entering Jalan Tapisan had to slow down abruptly because dormitory residents were eating and drinking alcohol while sitting on the two-lane road next to Sungei Tengah Lodge.

A migrant worker, who gave his name only as Vijay, said residents like him prefer to sit on the pavement outside, especially as alcohol consumption is banned by his dormitory on its premises.

“It is quieter and cooler outside, and less crowded... You can sit anywhere,” said Mr Vijay, who was nursing a can of beer as he sat on the pavement in Kranji Way.

The migrant worker from India, who has been working in Singapore for 12 years, said most of his countrymen prefer to eat and consume alcohol on the pavements near their dorms, despite the risk.

Mr Vijay recounted an incident a few years ago in which a truck turning into Kranji Link mounted a kerb, causing him and his friends to scramble to safety. He was lucky.

In 2016, a truck, reversing towards a work area in the Thomson-East Coast Line Mandai Depot worksite, ran over two workers who were napping on the road after lunch.

Over a period of three weeks, starting on May 1, 2024, ST checked six locations where dorms are located, from Kranji to Tuas, after motorists raised concerns over road safety hazards posed by workers.

Mr Teddy Tora, a trailer driver, said he is extra alert when driving around Penjuru Road.

“The roads are dark at night, and with many blind spots on the trailer, it takes my full concentration to spot workers sitting at the side of roads,” said the 36-year-old, adding: “I’ve had many close calls.”

There are 54 purpose-built dormitories for foreign workers. Each can accommodate 1,000 or more workers, with the average being 5,000 workers.

There are also workers who are housed in factory-converted dormitories.

While there are no laws banning drinking in the dorms, some providers do not allow the sale or consumption of alcohol on the premises. Drinking in public areas is also not allowed between 10.30pm and 7am.

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, chief executive of construction services firm Kori Holdings, said that, at times, workers resort to unsafe behaviour when they are drunk, including sleeping near the roads.

“In their home countries, this attitude may be a norm. But they need to understand they are also endangering the public,” he added.

“We find that workers that are housed in purpose-built dormitories, where there are adequate facilities to accommodate workers’ casual or leisure times, face fewer issues of endangering themselves as well as public safety due to a better controlled environment,” said Mr Hooi.

Ms Dipa Swaminathan, founder of migrant welfare charity group ItsRainingRaincoats, said workers who consume alcohol have little choice but to do it outside the dorms.

“If the dorms kick them out, where else are they to go?

“No wonder they resort to roadsides, because they won’t have the energy at the end of a long day to walk a long distance to a recreation centre, especially if it means they have to walk all the way back after having a meal and a few drinks,” she added.

The group conducts activities for workers at the Sembawang Recreation Centre, which opened on April 14, including English-language courses and festive bazaars.

Singapore Road Safety Council chairman Bernard Tay said companies should incorporate road safety into their management system, and also review workers’ needs.

Mr Tay said: “They (migrant workers) come from a different culture where they’re used to squatting on the roadside in rural areas because there are no vehicles. You come to the city, it’s completely different.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower said migrant workers are advised on road safety, such as not sitting on roadside kerbs, as part of a settling-in programme they take part in when they first arrive in Singapore.

There are also guidelines to help migrant workers adjust to life and work in Singapore, which are available in their native languages.

The ministry said road users, including migrant workers, are legally responsible for their own actions when they break road traffic rules.

But the spokesman added: “Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers are responsible for bearing the costs of their migrant workers’ medical treatment in Singapore, regardless of whether injury is incurred at the workplace.”

Construction company owner Mohd Salman said enforcement action is needed.

“Road safety advice is given to our workers, but it’s still up to them to follow as we don’t have control over them outside work hours,” added Mr Salman, who noted that most infringements occur near dormitories.

Woodlands resident Nizan Anwar said he often spots migrant workers jaywalking as well around Kranji MRT station and in Woodlands Street 41, while waiting for their transport to take them back to the dorms.

He said he is worried as peak-hour traffic is heavy on the two-lane road in Woodlands Street 41.

“A simple and safer solution is for the workers to wait at a nearby void deck,” said Mr Nizan, 53.

“The smaller lorries can pick them up safely within the estate. But I’m not sure if the residents would like that.”