High rents thwart hub for maids

SINGAPORE - Plans to transform an office complex in Mountbatten into a hub for maids to gather, relax and learn have hit a snag.

The two groups behind the idea say they cannot afford the $20,000 weekly rent for the social activities they want to organise for the domestic workers.

They are now scouting for an old school compound as half a year of negotiations to get the rent lowered at Mountbatten Centre led nowhere, their spokesmen told The Straits Times this week.

The two non-government organisations (NGOs) are Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) and Grace Management Consultancy and Services (GMCS), a foreign worker training course provider.

Their aim was to ready the hub, a cluster of six blocks near Mountbatten MRT station on the Circle Line, by early this year.

And they hoped to draw more than 1,000 maids every Sunday with activities such as courses and movie screenings.

But it hit a roadblock. GMCS and Fast said the landlord Ritz Land Investment wanted $20,000 each time its carpark is used for activities, such as flea markets and concerts.

"We plan to use the carpark every week so you can imagine the cost," said Fast president Seah Seng Choon.

When contacted, Mr John Sng, director of Ritz Land Investment, said he was not told that plans for the maid hub had been shelved.

He declined to comment on why discussions fell through.

Fast and GMCS came up with the idea of a centralised place for maids to spend their rest days last year, after the Government said it would implement a weekly day off policy for domestic workers from January this year.

Now, most maids spend their days off socialising at shopping malls or parks, or acquire skills at courses offered by NGOs.

But the two groups are not giving up. By early next year, Mr Seah hopes the hub will materialise at a new location.

Some venues have been identified, he said. These include the old Mei Chin Secondary and old New Town Secondary schools, both in Queenstown. Another possibility is the old Geylang Fire Station near Sims Avenue.

Finding a suitable location has been an uphill task, said Mr Seah.

The place has to fulfil several conditions, including having a field where maids can have picnics as well be near an MRT station and bus stops but be some distance from residential areas so as to minimise inconvenience.

Cost is another daunting factor Rent will likely be about $50,000 a month and another $50,000 is needed to pay for, among others, utilities and organising events.

Fast and GMCS hope to defray the cost by selling food and drinks to the maids. Telcos and remittance companies will be brought in to set up shop, for which the organisers will collect rent.

But until that hub is realised, the two groups are making do with smaller activities at an office complex in Raeburn Park, near Tanjong Pagar.

On Aug 18, a befrienders programme will be launched there, with a team of volunteers giving the maids information and advice on employment and personal issues.

The maids can also attend classes in such areas as computer skills and cooking.

Filipina maid Abigaile Robale, 31, said she is looking forward to the activities. "After a hard week of work, we want to relax and have a good time with our friends," she said.



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