A Workers’ Village

30 Sep

They live where they work


This entry will be the only serious post of this visit.  Readers should be advised!

At our main acute care hospital site, we are in the process of building a 4-storey kitchen and education building.  I have mentioned this building before, when we started the construction sometime ago.  I won’t bother describing the purpose of this building, which is getting close to completion.  If you’re interested, you can take a look at the entry here.

What I want to talk about is the little village that sits within the building site.  Way back in September 2006, I wrote a post called Bangkok Construction 101 and then in September 2008, I wrote another entry called A Construction Site and its Village.  In both of those entries, I talked about how on big construction sites in Bangkok, the workers and their families actually move in and live in shacks on the site.  Really big projects can have what amounts to a large village that is created in and around the construction area and that community can literally be in place for many years.

By in large, this mobile construction village concept didn’t sit well with me, as many of the workers were undocumented folks who were being underpaid and denied access to services.  The kids and spouses who lived in the construction site villages often did not have adequate access to proper education and healthcare services.

As I was touring the new project site the other day, I noticed all the aluminum shacks just in front of the the building.  I decided to wander through the maze created by these shacks.  It turned that the maze was like a little street system with each shack having its front door leading onto the street.  This was a workers’ village – albeit a small one.  It turned out that the workers and some family members were living here.

Given my rant in 2006 about poor working and living conditions in these little communities, I was concerned that an organization like ours would allow people, particularly children, to live in sub standard conditions on our property.  So I brought this up with my colleagues.  I was told that nurses regularly inspected the village and made sure that the workers and their families were kept healthy.  Based on the condition of the area, cleanliness is not a big issue, that’s for sure, but apparently the nurses are very strict around everyone getting access to proper showers at the hospital. Also, our school staff make sure that any kids who might live here are given access to our school or, if they are older, sent to higher level schools nearby.  The two little kids pictured in the slides above were apparently off for lunch, but they attend our school which is literally next door to the construction site.

There have been complaints by hospital staff about the poor site conditions and these complaints have been brought to the contractor’s attention many times.  There is always a promise made to clean up, but it until now, it hasn’t happened.  Finally, this week we hired an independent construction manager to take control of the entire site.  Not only were we upset about the mess that was not being cleaned up, but there are now serious concerns about actual construction quality and some issues related to contractual obligations.  So hopefully, now that a third party independent manager has been appointed, the site will get cleaned up and the contract issues will be resolved.

The folks in this and all the other construction site villages are transient workers.  They travel from construction job to construction job and live where they work.  I’m sure there is mistreatment and poor conditions almost everywhere.  Certainly conditions at our site don’t look that great.  However, these folks have jobs and have a pretty steady income as they are quite skilled in their particular trades and so are in demand as long as construction projects keep happening.  Being a member of the privileged class in Bangkok often makes one forget that this is a developing country.  The minimum wage in the city is about $10/day.  It’s less outside of the city.  These folks have jobs, a partial roof over their heads and earn more than the minimum wage.  (We have now made sure of this.)  At least in this case, they are also receiving healthcare and education services.  However, that might not be true as they move onto the next project.

I’m no sociologist but it seems to me that this phenomena of mobile villages is certainly one worth studying.  From a government perspective, there need to be rules and regulations dealing with conditions in these villages.  I have a feeling that won’t happen anytime soon.

Interestingly enough, at another of our current building sites, a 5-storey nursing home, there is no workers’ village.  For reasons that aren’t clear to me, that project has seen workers coming to work in the morning and leaving in the evening.  I guess different contractors work in different ways.

I suppose the one positive thing that can be said about these worker’s communities is that commuting is cut down to zero.  Tomorrow, and for the rest of my stay, the Bangkok Blog will return to providing lighter, less serious, fare.

9 thoughts on “A Workers’ Village

  1. There are many successful designs for temporary villages. Quanset huts and geodesic domes used in the Arctic even would seem logical. With the amount of building you guys do, you would think that you could provide this sort of accomodation. It is cheap and reusable. It mat be still a developing country, but privileged classes in Bangkok, are the ones to emphasize “developing” and be the ones to insist on better living conditions as part of the building process. And don’t say that it will impact negatively on the workers, because it will come out of their pay, or they will begin to “expect” it. That is what “developing” is all about.

    • The thing is that the contractor theoretically provides the housing materials, but doesn’t have to. While the clients could try to insist on better materials, under current legislation, they can’t force a contractor to even provide housing. And when we asked the contractor to clean up, he said that this was the workers’ responsibility. (There is some truth to this.) However, now that a third party construction manager has taken over, the site is quickly being cleaned up.

  2. Well-put above. The idea of “developing” should lean towards the “improvement for all involved” side of the concept.

    • I think they would probably be too hot inside and also would be challenging to fit on sites that had very constricted space, like this one does. Tents that are water resistant and breath a bit might work better.

  3. Meeting somewhere in the middle with provision of clean water and sanitation, regular garbage removal, electrical power source and of course the previously mentioned access to health care and (bravo!) schooling I would think sufficient meddling

    Step by step then maybe it will slowly become the norm?

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