Foreigners too close to home


By ARNOLD LOHRENA LIM

Foreign invasion: (Top) A security guard of Sunway Cassia in Batu Maung fastening a banner urging residents to say no to illegal hostels, homestays and short stay guests. (Left) Clothes hung out to dry at illegal hostels in Batu Maung.

GEORGE TOWN: Yet another property quirk in land-starved Penang has arisen, this one giving foreign workers a taste of the “good life”.

Foreign workers of multinational corporations (MNCs) get to live in exclusive gated-and-guarded communities here, much to the dismay of other residents who expect their neighbourhood to be quiet and low-density.

With a shortage of suitable quarters for workers, MNCs have been housing them in such residential estates.

As rentals are steeper, at about RM2,000 for an unfurnished unit, up to 30 workers share a single house to spread the cost.

It is learned that these MNCs are bound by high standards of operating ethics such as the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA).

This is a global coalition of industries committed to upholding high standards of corporate social responsibility, which includes providing quality housing for workers.

The human resources manager of an MNC here, who declined to be named, said her company faced an annual audit under RBA and worker housing was a big factor.

“We don’t rent the houses ourselves. We outsource it to agencies that meet our requirements,” she said.

But it is a picture of incongruity when 30 workers share a triple-storey home while the neighbours are upper middle-income groups with Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars in their porches.

Sunway Cassia Residents Asso­ciation chairman Ibrahim Ramli said at the peak of the problem, he had to deal with 20 houses out of about 170 in his neighbourhood that had been converted to hostels.

This gated and guarded community in Batu Maung is hardly 3km from the first factory in the Bayan Lepas industrial area.

He said worker hostels began mushrooming in his community in end-2016.

“At one time, there were over 600 foreign workers living here.

“We have a beautiful nature park and exclusive picnic area. When they were celebrating some kind of festival, they would take over our park and hold loud concerts and parties,” he lamented.

Ibrahim recalled an incident when male workers got drunk at night and began fighting.

He said the tussle spilled out onto the street, forcing neighbours to call the police.

The other troubles were the factory buses.

“If one bus holds about 30 workers, imagine how many buses come for 600. The buses arrive before the sun comes up and the noise of the buses and hundreds of workers walking out is horrible,” he said.

Ibrahim said the unhappy environment led to a fall in the valuation of their homes.

“Our houses used to be RM1.2mil each. Recently, some house owners began selling for RM800,000.

“They no longer saw good value in their properties,” he said.

Unable to tolerate the erosion of the quality of life, Sunway Cassia Residents Association complained to Penang Island City Council, which resolved last December to take court action against eight house owners there under Section 28(2)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 for allowing their properties to be converted to worker hostels without approval.

Ibrahim said since MBPP stepped in, the number of hostels whittled down to two and he hoped that life would go back to normal soon.

MBPP mayor Datuk Yew Tung Seang said companies are allowed to rent homes for their workers, but they have to abide by the house rules of management committees, in the case of apartment blocks, and avoid becoming a nuisance to neighbours, which is an offence.

“When you put a high number of workers in a unit, then it becomes a hostel and you need planning permission,” he stressed.

State Housing, Town and Country Planning, and Local Government Committee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo said the state had approved the construction of two foreign worker residential complexes that can house a total of 12,000 workers.

“These complexes are slated to be built in Batu Maung and Gertak Sanggul. They will have plenty of amenities and facilities for workers that will meet the needs of MNCs,” Jagdeep said.

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