Apologies for the silence. We’ve been busy working on a new project about migrant workers in Singapore. To call the last three weeks intense, would be an understatement. It’s been an eye-opener. A real shocker. We’ve met more scumbags than we’ve ever met in our entire lives put together.
We’ve been yelled at and threatened, we’ve seen what it means to be in an unequal power relationship, we’ve heard truly horrendous stories of abuse, exploitation and torture, and we’ve had the police on us not once, but twice. We know our rights, so we are fine – a legal background helps – but each incident leaves us angrier and sadder than before.
We can’t say much more right now (wait for the film), but there is something we want to share.
Two weeks ago, we discovered a cluster of containers off Jurong Port Road. Some workers had taken us there – this little settlement had been their home for almost a year.
The place was filthy and stank of urine and rotting garbage. There were rats and mosquitoes everywhere. The workers told us they were housed, 20 men to a container. Each container was ventilated by an air-conditioner that often broke down.
More than 200 men had to share five toilets. There were no shower stalls – just a big tank filled with water covered by a thin film of scum. The kitchen had 13 individual stoves but not all of them worked. The workers told us they often had to wait hours for their turn to cook.
Our friends paid their employer, Ocean Marine Engineering, $100 for the privilege of living in this dump. That’s $2,000 for each container. Someone’s clearly raking it in.
These so-called dormitories broke health, environmental and safety rules on so many levels, the mind boggles to comprehend. Yet it was – still is – operating here, in law-abiding Singapore. We learnt a little later that it had in fact been around for four years. FOUR YEARS. How on earth did the authorities miss this one?
Several days after our visit, a volunteer reporter from a community blog went to the same site and wrote an excellent story about it. We thought we’d finally see some action. We even heard that the Ministry of Manpower was on the case and cracking down. We hoped the workers who had been conned into paying so much for so very little, would get some compensation.
This past weekend, we went back to take a look. The containers were still there, still occupied by dozens of workers. A dead rat lay decomposing next to the kitchen where a young Bangladeshi man was fixing himself some lunch. The stench was awful – clearly, the situation was so bad the occupants had stopped noticing something as trivial as a dead rat.
Two workers told us they paid their employers $50 a month each. A third had only just arrived and wasn’t sure how much he was going to be charged. They said some Ministry officials had visited. We’re waiting to see what happens next.
For anyone interested in taking a look (yes, journalists from the local press, we’re looking at you), the containers are located right next to the Singapore Press Holdings Print Centre. And yes, the irony does not escape us.