Over the last three year, about 80 breaches were found committed by migrant worker dormitory operators at purpose-built dormitories annually, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday (3 June).
The majority of the breaches—60 percent—were for “minor lapses” like not maintaining good hygiene and tidiness in one part of the dormitory, MOM said in a report by Channel News Asia.
In fact, out of the 43 FEDA-licensed migrant worker dorms in Singapore, about 20 of them have breached licensing condition every year, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo revealed in Parliament early last month.
“As MOM takes action even for minor breaches, it should not be surprising that slightly under half of the entities have previously breached a licensing condition,” a spokesperson from MOM noted.
The spokesperson added, “In all cases, the operators and employers were asked to rectify the lapses immediately. MOM followed up with inspections to ensure the rectifications were satisfactory.”
In the recent months, migrant worker dormitories have come under fire for its poor, unsanitary and overly-crammed living conditions. This in fact has led to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Singapore, contributing to over 90 percent of the country’s total cases.
However, MOM did not mention anything about whether any dormitories were checked or penalised for lacking quarantine requirements and medical facilities.
Action taken on over 1,200 employers
Over the last three years, MOM said that it took action against an average of 1,200 employers annually as they failed to provide acceptable living space for the migrant workers.
The offence that is mostly committed involve placing workers in overcrowded units or in unsanitary conditions, the Ministry said.
Besides that, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) found 150 fire safety infringements committed at purpose-built and factory-converted dorms in the last three years, said an SCDF spokesman to the Straits Times.
The infringements were discovered during the 362 inspections SCDF carried out at these dorms.
Out of these infringements, 143 of them ended up in composition fines. Of those, seven were serious ones that resulted in court action, like unauthorised fire safety works involving the erection of partition walls.
Based on the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA), dorm operators who defy the rules can be fined up to S$50,000, jailed for up to a year, or both.
However, if the offences were committed across the dormitory, or are repeated, then the operators could face a fine up to S$50,000.
But, in “egregious cases” where the dorm operator blatantly “disregard” to welfare of the workers, the Ministry will prosecute the operator.
One such incident happened to dormitory operator Labourtel Management and its director Parvis Ahamed Mohaamed Ghouse in July last year. They were charged after a number of dormitories were found to have “filthy and unacceptable” living conditions. They were the first to be prosecuted under FEDA and pleaded guilty in March this year.
MOM also inspected employers who house workers on their own.
“In addition to imposing a fine of up to S$20,000 on these employers, MOM will withdraw their work pass privileges and bar them from hiring foreign workers,” the spokesperson said.
New dormitories with improved standards
As the number of COVID-19 cases were mostly recorded in migrant worker dorms, Ms Teo said that the Government will “look into areas where we could have done better, so that we will be better prepared the next time”.
On Monday, in a joint statement released by the Ministry of National Development and MOM, it was announced that the Government will build new migrant worker dormitories and relocate some workers to unused state properties, as part of its plans to reduce the current density in the dormitories.
Around 60,000 workers will be placed in temporary sites like New Quick Build Dormitories by the end of this year. For the long term, the authorities will construct new purpose-built dorms in the next few years to accommodate up to 100,000 workers.
“This new building programme will take several years to complete, but we aim to have about 11 such new PBDs ready over the next one to two years. All of these PBDs will have amenities like minimarts, barber services, indoor recreation facilities and will have blocks well spaced out to ensure good ventilation. Workers living in the PBDs will also have ready access to medical care and support,” the statement read.
It added, “With these additional PBDs in place, we will also have the capacity to decant workers from the existing dormitories, and to undertake major upgrading to these dormitories to ensure that they meet the new standards.”
The Government agencies are also developing a set of specifications for these new dormitories, and some of the criteria focused on include design, facilities, management and regulation of these dormitories, as well as social interaction and disease response needs.