Foreign workers to get four more recreation centres

Foreign workers will be able to rest and relax at four more activity centres by the end of next year.

Recreation centres for foreign workers will be doubled from four to eight, in a bid to draw them away from Little India.

The expansion was announced by then Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament in January, when he gave a statement on the Little India riot.

He said these centres will provide alternative options for foreign workers who need places to gather and relax, but acknowledged that they "can never totally replace popular spots like Little India".

Mr Tan did not disclose the numbers or locations then, but The Straits Times has learnt that four centres will be built in Tuas South, Kranji, Simpang and Jalan Terusan off Jurong Port Road.

The Jalan Terusan centre's building cost is estimated to be $15 million and the one in Tuas South, $18 million, said JTC Corporation. No estimates were given for the other two centres.

There are four such centres now in Jurong, Penjuru Road, Woodlands and Kaki Bukit.

The new centres will have a combined size of more than nine football fields, according to JTC plans seen by The Straits Times.

"These recreation centres will be venues for the workers to gather, rest and relax," said JTC in its plans. Their facilities include basketball and volleyball courts, football and cricket fields, fitness corners, foodcourts, supermarkets and even Internet cafes.

The centre in Kranji is next to a site earmarked for a new dormitory, while the Tuas South centre is opposite a new 9,200-bed dormitory for marine and manufacturing workers.

JTC, a statutory board that plans industrial land use, has started approaching interested architects and engineers to draw up the designs of the new centres.

The designs are expected to be firmed up by the year end. Construction will start early next year and be done by the end of next year.

Industry players such as Mr Kelvin Teo, president of the Dormitory Association of Singapore, back the move. The centres will be near existing dormitories, he noted.

"This will make it convenient and attractive for workers staying at the dorms to go there," he said.

The amenities at the centres are important too, said Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong.

The association runs a recreation centre on Soon Lee Road in Jurong, providing services such as money transfer, barbering and mobile phone repair. It draws about 6,000 workers on weekdays and as many as 10,000 during weekends.

"Whatever you can get at Little India, you can get it at the supermarket here too," he said.

Foreign workers advocacy group Migrant Workers Centre said the activities have to be attractive.

The group organises weekly activities such as movie screenings, sports competitions and concerts for foreign workers at the Penjuru Road recreation centre.

The centres can also narrow the gap between locals and foreign workers, said Dr Ho. He observed that residents and workers from nearby factories visit the centres for food and groceries.

"Such interactions can help build social harmony," he said, adding: "These workers help build Singapore so we have to look after them too."

This article was published on May 5 in The Straits Times.

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