When migrant workers strike out overseas, they take a large gamble. Sometimes, it pays off. At companies such as Keppel Offshore & Marine (O&M) or Sembcorp Marine, foreign workers have access to dorms that boast a multitude of facilities.
"We are among the first companies in Singapore to provide subsidised dormitories for foreign workers," says Lee Chay Hoon, general manager for organisation development at Keppel O&M. The company's five dormitories house more than 10,000 workers, with multi-purpose halls, gymnasiums, basketball courts, and computer rooms.
Keppel O&M runs seven yards in Singapore, with a workforce of more than 15,000. "Foreign workers form a significant share of our Singapore headcount as we are unable to find sufficient number of Singaporean tradesmen such as welders and pipe fitters to fill these jobs," says Dr Lee. "Understanding the need for our foreign workers to integrate well into the Singapore environment, we do our best to safeguard their interests and well-being."
Over at Sembcorp Marine, its workers have begun moving into the living quarters at Phase 1 of its new integrated shipyard in Tuas. When fully occupied, three blocks of seven-storey dormitories will house 4,500 workers. There, they have the option of playing roof-top street soccer, table tennis, sepak takraw, cricket and basketball, according to the company's spokeswoman.
"To allow them to have maximum rest time, in-house laundry services are also provided to help ease the task of washing," she says. "We also take care of their needs and welfare to ensure that they are well-adapted to life in Singapore and the work environment. This includes engaging them through sports . . . as well as celebrations during festive seasons so that they do not feel homesick."
In the wake of the Little India riot, the need for recreational space for foreign workers has been increasingly under scrutiny and how smaller dormitories elsewhere on the island meet the need for better amenities will come into focus.
"The opportunities for migrant workers to spend their free time in more healthy pursuits are not there," says D Parthasarathy, a visiting professor with NUS's South Asian Studies Programme. "What they need is space where they are free to do what they want."
While the issue of space constraints remains an insurmountable fact in Singapore, other companies find ways to keep up the morale of their foreign workforce.
At Lucky Joint Construction, managing director Yeow Kian Seng attends the home-country weddings of some of his foreign workers - those who have a good track record of at least five years. His foreign workforce of about 300 comprises workers from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Thailand.
"When we attend the wedding, we buy gold for the husband and wife and give them and their parents money," he tells The Business Times. Because of that, he has lost count of the number of times he has been to India. "It is important that we treat them like our own people."