Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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HOME’s responses to new Foreign Employee Dormitory Act

HOME picture of migrant worker

Migrant workers who approach HOME for assistance often live in conditions which are crowded, dirty and full of pests such as cockroaches, bed bugs and rats. It is ironic that migrant workers are housed in such appalling conditions while building luxury apartments and bungalows for Singapore

By Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (H.O.M.E.)

The Foreign Employee Dormitories Act has been lauded for ensuring a higher quality of living in large foreign workers’ dormitories (i.e. with 1,000 residents and above.) While it is commendable and necessary to improve conditions, the Bill in its current state falls short of ensuring adequate standards for all migrant workers in Singapore.

Missed Opportunity to address Inadequate Housing for all

The Act was a good opportunity to set the standards for adequate accommodation across all the different housing types – factory converted dormitories, shophouses and worksite temporary housing . However, it only applies to dormitories with 1000 residents and above.

Currently, standards vary across different housing types. For instance, those living in buildings under construction, and temporarily built sheds at construction sites , do not have proper bedroom, kitchen, recreational and shower facilities, Buildings under construction are often dusty, noisy and pest infested, Dengue outbreaks have been reported in these areas due to inadequate sanitation. The regulations for such housing is minimal and far lower than that of purpose built dormitories and temporary housing structures.

A comprehensive Act for all foreign workers’ dormitories would ensure consistent standards in terms of structure of the housing, proper bedding, adequate ventilation, sanitation, number of persons per room, security of belongings, sufficient privacy, laundry and cooking facilities, waste management and access to health care. The new Act fails to address this.

Act fails to address Insufficient Adequate Housing

A Straits Times report, Dorm Operators form association to raise standards, revealed that there are approximately 150,000 bed spaces in purpose built dormitories. With approximately 770,000 foreign workers in Singapore (MOM Statistics), this means 570,000 are living in sub-standard housing in factory converted quarters, shop houses, private apartments, and construction sites where employers openly flout housing regulations. URA regulations stipulate that walk up apartments and shop houses should not accommodate more than 8 persons in one unit but employers often accommodate, 10 to 15 workers in a small room to save costs. Many of these places are also often poorly managed. .

Excessive Powers of Dormitory Inspectors

We should also be concerned about the excessive powers given to dormitory inspectors in this Act. It mentions that if the dormitory officer or inspector believes that any offence under this new Act has been committed, he or she may break open any door or window of the premises for inspections. He or she also has the powers to arrest and detain someone for up to 48 hours. Why does the Act give such broad powers to inspectors when existing legislation such as the Criminal Procedures Code (CPC), and the Police Force Act already exist? According to Section 25 and Section 7 of the Act, not having a licence to run a dormitory is an arrestable and detainable offence. What kinds of offences under this proposed Act could be so serious that it is necessary for such actions? More clarity is needed.

Dormitories as de-facto internment camp

We are concerned that the Act has designated these dormitories as public spaces subject to regulations that include restricting the entry to and exit of the dormitories’ residents where the Commissioner overseeing these dormitories “has reasonable grounds to believe” that the residents will be affected by public health outbreaks or public disorder. This provision captured in Section 13 Clause 4d reinforces the stereotype that foreign workers are more inclined to riotous behavior. Designating their living quarters as public spaces also infringes on their personal space.

Dormitories are the homes of foreign workers. Their personal space and movement should be respected. Reinforcing negative perceptions of migrant workers does nothing to improve relations between them and the Singapore public. The Manpower Minister, Tan Chuan Jin himself has said “there is no place for racists and xenophobes in our society” Are politicians in Singapore following their own advice?

This was first published at HOME’s official website.

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