It was brought to our attention that notices recently went up at the Sungei Tengah Lodge restricting residents of the dormitory from taking public transportation to work. According to the notice which was put up around the dorm, the restriction took effect on 1 August.
When we asked about the notices, the dormitory said that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had stated that foreign workers based at the Sungei Tengah Lodge were creating a massive load on the public transportation, noting that it was the duty of the employer to ferry their workers to and from the worksite.
Now, the public buses which pass through the roads where the dormitory is situated, service a number of public institutions including an army camp and the Ministry of Home Affairs Training school.
Long queues at the bus stop near Chu Kang MRT Station are a common sight every morning and evening. Commuters who frequently take these busses have learnt to form informal queues when waiting for the busses, no demarcation necessary, due to the long standing issue of overloaded bus lines during peak hours.
When TOC interviewed the workers who were queuing up at the bus stop, they told us that they are not aware of any compulsory order not to take public transport. However, they did confirm that there were chartered busses available for them which were available only during certain hours.
When we visited the bus stop during peak hours in the morning and evening, we observed that the queue consisted of mostly servicemen, migrant workers, and residents. The public busses are filled to the brim before taking off.
Speaking to TOC, the person in charge (PIC) at the dormitory said that the companies are advised to ensure transport is arranged to take the workers to their worksite or that the workers to take the chartered buses which was run from 5.45am to 7.15am at a ten minutes interval to three different stations which are; Boon Lay, Bukit Gombak, or Kranji. There was no mention about the evening chartered buses.
The PIC also told us that they were looking into the demands of the chartered busses and if they have to be catered for other stations or locations. He also shared that the MOM has stated that employers are obliged to pick their workers up from the dormitories.
A social worker who works with migrant workers told TOC two weeks back that the workers were instructed not to take public transportation and that they were only allowed to use private transportation. The social worker added that there is also informal private transportation what would take the workers to Little India, collecting between $1-3. However, those buses would only move when the bus was full, meaning timing could be irregular.
Noting that the practice is discriminatory, the social worker pointed out that the workers wouldn’t dare to raise the issue.
LTA says the dormitory misconstrued FEDA requirements
TOC has reached out to the LTA for comments on this situation.
In an email sent two weeks after our query, Senior Executive of the Bus Service Development Mr Stanley Kang clarified that dormitories like the Sungei Tengah Lodge are required under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (“FEDA”) to ensure that residents have adequate dedicated transport arrangements to and from their workplaces, however there is no restriction of them using public transportation.
Mr Kang said in his email, “This requirement is part of a holistic approach towards ensuring that the needs of the foreign workers are adequately looked into and managed. Regrettably, ST Lodge has misconstrued the FEDA requirement by giving the impression that its residents are not allowed to take public transport.”
He added that the MOM has since clarified the issue with the lodge and taken immediate action to explain the situation to both the residents and their employers.
The Sungei Tengah Lodge is one of nine dormitories that were built between 2014-2015 and was spurred by the Little India Riot which happened in December 2013. Following the riot which involved foreign workers mostly from Tamil Nadu, India, authorities were compelled to resolve issues of poor housing and living conditions for foreign workers when a report by the Committee of Inquiry found that there was room for improvement in the accommodations provided for them.