COVID-19: Singapore to build new dormitories with improved living standards for migrant workers

COVID-19: Singapore to build new dormitories with improved living standards for migrant workers

Westlite Mandai 09
Workers at Westlite Mandai Dormitory collecting their meals on Wednesday (May 6). Westlite Mandai Dormitory has been gazetted as an isolation area to curb the spread of COVID-19 (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: The Government will build new foreign worker dormitories, and refit unused state properties as part of plans to reduce the current density in the dormitories. 

By the end of this year, there will be additional space to house about 60,000 workers, the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a joint media release on Monday (Jun 1).

These include quick build dormitories that can be constructed “quite quickly” in a modular form with a low density. These dormitories can last for about two to three years and can house about 25,000 people in total.

Eight sites have been earmarked for new quick build dormitories by the end of 2020, including in Kranji, Tuas, Admiralty, Choa Chu Kang and Tampines. 

singapore quick-build dormitories (qbd) for migrant workers map

READ: Migrant workers in dormitories cleared of COVID-19 to have staggered rest days with time limit during Phase 2

Unused state properties, including former schools and vacant factories, will be fitted out to temporarily house about 25,000 workers.

The authorities are also in talks with contractors to build more construction temporary quarters, which are makeshift dormitories that keep the workers near their worksite.

Some of the state properties that will be refurbished include the former Bedok North Secondary School building, the former Anderson Junior College Hostel and tents at the National Service Resort and country club in Kranji. 

singapore temporary migrant worker accommodation map

As part of longer-term plans, the Government is planning to build new purpose-built dormitories over the next few years to house up to 100,000 workers. These dormitories, which will have amenities such as minimarts and barber services, will replace the temporary accommodations built this year. 

About 11 purpose-built dormitories will be ready in the next "one to two years", the release said. Workers living in these dormitories will also have access to medical care and support.

"With these additional purpose-built dormitories 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 ministries said.

READ: Masks to be worn as default, face shields allowed only for certain settings and children aged 12 and below

READ: Singapore confirms 408 new COVID-19 cases, no new community infections

IMPROVED LIVING STANDARDS

Besides expanding housing availability for foreign workers, government agencies are developing a set of specifications for these new dormitories, the ministries added. 

These specifications will look into the design, facilities, management and regulation of these dormitories, and will factor in social interaction and disease response needs. 

“In land-scarce Singapore, dormitories are a practical approach to housing our migrant workers,” the release said.

“We aim to make dormitory living and design more resilient to public health risks including pandemics, with improved living standards that are benchmarked both domestically and internationally. 

“We will take on board lessons learnt from the current COVID pandemic, and also seek feedback from relevant stakeholders.” 

Under a pilot programme, the living space per resident at the new quick build dormitories will be improved to at least 6 sq m (not including shared facilities) from at least 4.5 sq m per resident (including shared facilities) currently. 

There will also be a maximum of 10 beds per room. There are currently no limits on the maximum number of beds allowed per room, although in practice, dormitories typically have about 12 to 16 beds in each room. 

The new set of requirements will see only single-deck beds being used, with 1m spacing between the beds. Double-decker beds are currently mostly used in dormitories.

There will also be at least one bathroom, sink and toilet for every five beds, instead of every 15 beds currently. 

Dormitories will also have to include more sick bay beds - 15 for every 1,000 bed spaces, as compared to the current requirement of just one for every 1,000 bed spaces.

singapore new dormitory standards infographic

NEW MODEL

The Government is also studying the possibility of developing the new purpose-built dormitories on a different model compared to the present system, where currently land is released for the commercial operators to bid, build or operate. 

One way could be a “build-own-lease” scheme where the Government builds and owns the asset but leases it out to an organisation to run it, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong in a press conference on Monday.

The ministries noted that cost will go up alongside these new housing plans, but Mr Wong said the authorities might provide some support to help employers.

These new housing plans are meant to “keep the workers safe and allow Singaporeans to continue benefitting from their contributions”, the ministries said.

"While the physical standards are being improved, it is equally important to uplift the capabilities of dormitory operators and make adjustments to the daily living habits of the dormitory residents," the ministries added.

"Everyone must do their part to minimise the risk of infection clusters. The pilot will therefore also seek to instil a new level of discipline on safe living within dormitories."

READ: COVID-19: More than a third of Singaporean or PR cases in May linked to dormitory clusters

CLOSER TO RESIDENTIAL AREAS

Given Singapore's land constraints, some of the dormitories will be located closer to residential areas, said the release

"Singaporeans must therefore do our part too. We must reject the Not in My Backyard mindset and instead appreciate these workers who keep Singapore going," the ministries said. 

This new strategy around foreign worker dormitories has two objectives, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo: To reduce the risk of transmission if an outbreak happens, and respond to it more “effectively”.

“We should really work on the assumption that the risk will always be present in a dormitory, just like the risk is present in any household. A dormitory will always be a big household.”

FOREIGN WORKERS GO BACK TO WORK

More than 32,000 dormitory residents have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, making up the vast majority of cases in Singapore.

During the press conference, Mrs Teo provided an update on how many foreign workers have been declared infection-free.

A total of 40,000 foreign workers living in dormitories have either recovered or tested negative for COVID-19, she said. This group will be allowed to go back to work. 

About 12,000 of them are essential workers that were moved out of the dormitories previously. Another 20,000 are recovered patients now housed at various temporary sites, and the remaining 8,000 workers are living in dormitories and have either tested negative or have been discharged. 

Meanwhile, 60 dormitories - three purpose-built dormitories and 57 factory-converted dormitories or temporary construction quarters - will be given a “clear status” on Tuesday, Mrs Teo added, meaning that none of their residents currently have COVID-19. 

Another 11 purpose-built dormitories, as well as 100 factory-converted dormitories and temporary construction quarters housing 50,000 workers in total are due to be given the same status in the next few weeks, MOM said in a separate press release. 

Watch the full press conference:

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Source: CNA/rp(mi)

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