Tuas dorm town bustles after dark

Tuas dorm town bustles after dark
Workers returning to their dormitory after a day's work at Tuas. The dormitory town is near workplaces such as the shipyards in Jurong.

As the sun sets on Tuas, a remote area in a remote industrial estate gets busy.

Male workers clad in T-shirts or overalls stained with mud and grime get off covered lorries and file into factory buildings. They are not reporting for work but going home after calling it a day at shipyards and construction sites all over Singapore.

Welcome to Tuas View Square, a 500m stretch of road where more than 10 factories have been refurbished into dormitories for foreign workers.

It has become a kind of mini dormitory town and a home away from home to more than 5,000 workers, mainly from India and Bangladesh. It's almost a little Little India.

About five years ago, the scene at sunset would have been one of workers from Singapore and Malaysia filing out of the factories in casual attire after changing out of grey, white and blue uniforms.

Then, factories owned by multinational companies churned out goods like electronic parts and chemicals, said shopkeepers in the area.

But as companies relocated to cheaper locations overseas, the factories were turned into dorms by construction and marine firms over the last five years.

There are about 700 factory-converted dorms for foreign workers in industrial estates across Singapore.

They house an estimated 100,000 or more foreign workers - about 25 per cent of the work permit holders in lower-skilled jobs in sectors such as construction and marine.

This dorm town in Tuas View Square, where Singapore's largest rubbish incinerator is in sight, is as far from anyone's backyard as can be.

While barbed wire on fences or gantries remain, the security measures are unnecessary: Hardly anyone from outside visits.

In the evenings, some denizens of this nearly all-male town - there are only a handful of women, mainly shopkeepers - sit cross-legged on roadside kerbs to chat and drink beer.

The men, some clad in shirts and sarongs, also go on bicycles to visit friends in other dorms.

"I like the quiet," said an Indian shipyard worker. "I am around languages and people I know."

Some dorms have canteens where curries and rice are served round the clock; others house mini-marts and phone shops.

Some Singaporeans do brisk business here selling groceries and mobile phone cards.

Mr Jonathan Koh, who is in his late 30s, said each night he and his two staff serve a few hundred workers, who spend $20 to $30 each to top up their phone cards.

"Business is quite good. There are few mobile phone shops here and it takes too long for the workers to travel outside," he said.

Dorm operators have had good business too. A bed in dorms here now costs around $250 a month per worker, up from $100 to $150 five years ago, say employers.

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