Featured News Dorms at sea for foreign workers: Old idea refloated

Dorms at sea for foreign workers: Old idea refloated

Engineer: We need them but they present a health risk to the nation

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Singapore – Members of the online community have commented on a refloated suggestion to have offshore housing for foreign workers, with many highlighting underlying issues apart from overcrowded dormitories.

Based on an opinion piece published by straitstimes.com on Saturday (May 23), the proposal was introduced of a floating city, complete with housing and parks, for foreign workers. It mentioned that the Covid-19 pandemic had “negatively impacted” Singapore’s image as a clean and safe city because of the exponential growth of confirmed cases among foreign workers.

Mr Lim Soon Heng, an engineer with five decades of experience in civil and marine engineering, proposed the alternative of a floating city.

He said the “network of foreign workers in urban areas offers links for transmission of aggressive pathogens to infect the entire nation”, which, unless reduced, would “always pose a risk of a major and costly outbreak of a contagious disease”.

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“We need them (foreign workers), but they present a health risk to the nation,” noted Mr Lim. He offered the “floating solution” which would provide the roughly 320,000 foreign  workers in construction with space to socialise “while being sufficiently distant from urban centres to avoid over-stressing urban infrastructure”.

Mr Lim expounded on the idea from the mega floats being made with reinforced concrete to the amenities that could be included. “The need to review migrant workers’ housing is pressing,” he said. “With the United Nations interested in exploring floating cities, it would be opportune if Singapore can get working on a pilot project to better understand their potential and limitation.”

Shortly after the piece was published, former senior Straits Times journalist Bertha Henson shared the article and asked the public for their opinions on the idea. “No wonder how beautiful we make this floating island, I keep thinking of it like prison labour brought in on barges to work,” she said.

Henson indicated that the “invisibility” of foreign workers from urban areas could be harmful to the psyche of Singaporeans. “Better we begin a conversation about how much reliance on foreign workers we should have first,” she said.

Netizens commented that the article made it seem like foreign workers were “disease-spreading units” and focused on the aspect of disease control. However, they are more than that. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with sharing with them the nice places that we have in Singapore,” said Pai B. Lim.

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Others pointed out that the explosion of Covid-19 cases within foreign worker dormitories had nothing to do with the location. Many were not impressed by the “floating solution” and tagged it as an “apartheid” perspective.

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Meanwhile, Mr Lucas Low commented that the idea was not new and attached a 2008 report with the same topic.

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

Photo: FB screengrab / Bertha Henson

What you think of this? No wonder how beautiful we make this floating island, I keep thinking of it like prison labour…

Posted by Bertha Henson on Friday, May 22, 2020

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