New dorm better than the norm

For 11 years, he moved about migrant worker dormitories, sometimes living in cramped, hot and unhygienic rooms.

Cooking was not often not an option at those places because no proper space was allocated.

But mechanic Voo Wei Chung's life as a migrant worker here improved last month when his company rented flats at a new dormitory at Mandai Estate.

Westlite Mandai, which comprises three 12-storey buildings that house some 6,300 workers, has a wide array of facilities and services including a 24-hour supermarket.

The Government had said last year that a substantial number of dormitories will be built over the next two to three years to provide migrant workers with better accommodation.

Most foreign worker dormitories are temporary, requiring land lease renewals every one to three years.

But Westlite Mandai, which was fully completed last October, is one of the rare few to be built on freehold land, said Mr Ho Lip Chin, director of investment at Centurion, which built and manages the 396-unit dormitory.

Each one-bedroom flat houses up to 16 workers, and has a kitchen, two shower and two toilet cubicles. Every flat is also SingTel mio TV-ready.

The monthly rent is about $280 to $300 for each worker.

Residents can head down to the sports compound after a hard day's work for a game of football or cricket, or keep their fitness levels up at the gym.

The small supermarket is well stocked with a wide variety of fresh produce and dry goods.

For Mr Voo, who is from Sabah, Malaysia, living at Westlite Mandai is a step up.

The 29-year-old, who works at Sentosa, said: "It's a very big difference from the others dorms that I previously lived in.

"There are many games and activities that I can take part in during the weekend.

"But more importantly, I don't have to queue to use a common shower and can cook my meals every day. It's a place that I can finally call home."

But the dormitory, glamorous by migrant worker standards, is more than just about giving residents the best facilities, said Mr Ho.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

"It's a combination of hardware and software. Besides facilities, we also have to pay attention to small details and cultural differences." Newspapers from the workers' home countries in the dormitory's reading room and subsidised excursions to places of attraction are some of the perks that the dormitory offers its residents.

The dormitory also works with non-government organisations to conduct free health screenings at the dormitory once every few months.

Mr Ho hopes Westlite Mandai will set a trend in future accommodation projects for migrant workers here.

A new Centurion development at Woodlands is underway on a 30 year-lease land, and will house some 4,100 workers in three-bedroom flats when it is completed next year.

Centurion is in the dormitory business and has even acquired RMIT village student accommodation in Melbourne, Australia.

"Land space is very scarce in Singapore, but that does not mean we should compromise the quality of living of those who help to build our country," said Mr Ho.

Mr Jolovan Wham of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), concurred, adding: "Dormitories that meet or go beyond international standards are what we need in Singapore.

"Migrant workers should not have to accept sub-standard housing."

The executive director of Home, a migrant worker help group, said it would be ironic if migrant workers who build "beautiful homes are made to sleep in slum-like conditions."

Mr Ho said those who live in Westlite Mandai are also generally well-behaved.

The dormitory, which is running at near full occupancy, houses workers who mostly hail from India, Bangladesh and China.

Residents have to adhere to a strict set of house rules, which cover housekeeping and a prohibition on gambling and drinking inside the premises of the dormitory.

There is also 24-hour security and workers need to scan their pass to gain entry.

"From the first day they check in, they are reminded about the consequences if they break the rules, the harshest being eviction," said Mr Siva Lingam, operations executive at Westlite Mandai.

"Most of them know that if they get into serious trouble like fighting, they will most probably be sent back home, which they fear, because Singapore is a good place to work and they want to stay here."

benlim@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 14 in The New Paper.Get The New Paper for more stories.