Dorm operators rustle up many weekend activities

From holding movie screenings to sports contests, large dormitory operators here are going the extra mile this weekend to keep their foreign workers occupied and dissuade them from heading to Little India.

This, even as many of the workers themselves say they are planning to stay in their dorms, in the wake of "cooling-off" measures announced by the authorities.

The sale and public consumption of alcohol will be banned in Little India this weekend after Sunday's riot. The Land Transport Authority has also suspended 25 private bus services that ferry workers to the area on Sundays.

The Singapore Contractors Association Limited (Scal), which manages six dorms, plans to have more movie screenings and to extend the opening hours of in-house facilities such as gyms.

The six dorms house more than 16,000 foreign workers. As of June, there were 759,600 foreign workers in Singapore.

Scal president Ho Nyok Yong said it is still working out the details. The association represents 2,800 construction firms and has also urged its members who have dorms to organise activities for the workers this weekend.

Dormitory operator Vobis Enterprise, which runs seven dorms housing some 40,000 workers, said it is holding sports competitions such as sepak takraw at all of its dorms on Sunday.

Vobis chairman Ken Lim said the operator usually has such whole-day competitions once or twice a year, but decided to have them this weekend in the wake of the cooling-off measures.

The Ministry of Manpower said on Thursday that it has encouraged the major dorm operators to provide more recreational activities this weekend.

In a fortuitous turn of events, the Migrant Workers' Centre has already organised variety shows on Sunday for some 50,000 workers.

The shows are part of celebrations for International Migrants Day, which is next Wednesday, and will be held at two migrant worker recreation centres and three dormitories.

The centre's executive director Bernard Menon told The Straits Times that the events will not have alcohol for sale and security will be increased slightly.

"But we are mindful that we do not want to make our migrant workers feel uncomfortable. The events are to recognise their efforts and we want them to have a good time," he said.

Meanwhile, the non-profit Art of Living Foundation here has offered to hold free stress relief workshops at the dorms.

These are one-hour sessions which include activities such as simple yoga, singing and dancing. It has conducted such sessions for foreign workers here for several years.

Its spokesman said the group has more than 500 volunteers ready to conduct the sessions. "Even if the dorm operators want us to do them this Sunday, we are ready," she said.

With workers choosing to stay in, coffee shops and minimarts located within the dorms are also expecting a boom in business.

Ms Huang Rong, a shop assistant at a dormitory minimart in Seletar Farmway, said business has gone up since Monday, with workers heading straight back to their dorms after work.

The shop usually sells about 20kg each of vegetables and meat daily. But since Monday, this has gone up to 25kg to 30kg. She expects the figures to be higher this weekend.

Indian national and shipyard worker Arumugam Raguwaram, 24, said his boss has told him to avoid Little India for a few months. He will spend his Sunday in his Tuas dorm watching Tamil movies and sleeping.

"I can go to Boon Lay to send money home. I don't need to go to Little India," he said.

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