COVID-19: Guidelines to help dorm operators, employers come to mutual agreement on existing rental contracts

COVID-19: Guidelines to help dorm operators, employers come to mutual agreement on existing rental contracts

Migrant workers in essential services in Singapore
Migrant workers in essential services wearing safety vests and face masks cross a street at Orchard Road, May 27, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE: The authorities on Monday (Sep 14) announced guidelines to help dormitory operators and employers come to a mutual agreement on their existing rental contracts. 

This comes amid the option for employers to rehouse their workers in order to comply with the COVID-19 safe restart criteria set out by sector agencies and prevent transmission of the virus between work sites and living spaces. 

For example, employers may wish to cohort those working on the same project from different accommodations to a dedicated accommodation or reshuffle those living in the same accommodation. 

The guidelines were set by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Building and Construction Authority and Economic Development Board in view of such movements, and aim to help dormitory operators and employers work out contractual arrangements on dormitory rentals fairly and reasonably. 

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Guidelines for employers include resolving outstanding rental arrears with dormitory operators, even if their contracts have expired or if they wish to terminate or modify the rental contracts.

Employers are also encouraged to discuss alternative ways to achieve the desired segregation of their workforce and consider reasonable termination clauses if offered by the dormitory operator. For example, the dormitory operator may require a reasonable notice period for termination of rental contracts.

According to the guidelines, dormitory operators may consider allowing existing tenants the option of early termination of the rental contract. This option may be feasible if the tenants provide reasonable notice when moving to other accommodation. Termination penalties may also be waived in this situation.

Dormitory operators could also consider allowing existing tenants to terminate their rental contracts without penalties if they are moving to other rooms within the same dormitory, which might have different costs.

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In addition, dormitory operators could consider providing rental rebates to employers who have temporarily shifted their migrant workers. 

These rebates may be given if the workers were shifted to alternative living spaces that are not Government facilities, with employers continuing to pay for their dormitory accommodation with a view to return.

This takes into consideration that the operator would not have to incur utilities and manpower costs to take care of the migrant workers who have temporarily moved out. Similarly, the guidelines advised employers not to demand for a full waiver of the rental fees as operators incur costs in maintaining the empty room during this period.

Employers and dormitory operators who are re-locating migrant workers must abide by the previously outlined procedures on relocating workers to another residence before moving their migrant workers from or to the cleared dormitories.

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During the outbreak, some migrant workers living in dormitories may have been temporarily rehoused by the Government at other housing facilities or moved to isolation facilities.

In May, MOM issued an advisory informing employers that they were to continue paying dormitory rental fees for these workers as the employers were not paying to house the workers at facilities provided by the Government. 

This requirement continues to apply until employers have re-negotiated or terminated their rental contracts with the dormitory operators, the guidelines stated. 

Government agencies will monitor and review the effectiveness of these guidelines to facilitate the cohorting of migrant workers as well as re-housing arrangements, said the agencies.

“We will take further steps to expedite the process if necessary. Industry representatives may also consider forming a mediation panel to expedite the resolution of contractual disputes, if necessary,” they added.

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Source: CNA/zl

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