SINGAPORE: Over the last three years, foreign worker dormitory operators have flouted dormitory management rules about 80 times a year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday (June 3).
About 60 per cent of these breaches were for "minor lapses", such as failing to maintain tidiness and cleanliness in one part of the dormitory, MOM said in response to CNA’s queries.
These breaches were found during MOM’s inspections of dormitories licensed under the Foreign Employees Dormitory Act (FEDA).
Last month, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo revealed in Parliament that about 20 operators are penalised every year under the Act. This accounts for nearly half of the 43 FEDA-licensed foreign worker dormitories in Singapore.
"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 ministry spokesperson said.
"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."
According to the Act, dormitory operators who flout the regulations can be fined up to S$50,000, jailed for up to a year, or both.
MOM said that if breaches are observed across the dormitory, or are repeated, operators can be fined up to $50,000.
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But in “egregious cases” where the operator has shown a “blatant disregard” for the welfare of their residents, the ministry will prosecute the operator.
In July last year, dormitory operator Labourtel Management and its director Parvis Ahamed Mohamed Ghouse were charged after several dormitories were found to be in "filthy and unacceptable" living conditions.
They were the first to be prosecuted under FEDA and pleaded guilty in March this year.
Employers who choose to house workers on their own are also inspected by the ministry.
Over the last three years, MOM took action against an average of 1,200 employers every year for failing to ensure acceptable accommodation for their workers.
The most common offence involved housing workers in overcrowded units or in unsanitary conditions, the ministry said.
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"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.
MOM has about 100 full-time dormitory inspectors who work under the Commissioner for Foreign Employee Dormitories, two Deputy Commissioners and eight Assistant Commissioners, Mrs Teo had previously said.
They conducted about 1,200 inspections and about 3,000 investigations across all housing types last year.
More than 300,000 foreign workers live in various types of dormitories across Singapore, from large purpose-built dormitories to smaller factory-converted dormitories and makeshift living quarters near their worksites.
With the vast majority of COVID-19 cases stemming from foreign worker dormitories, calls have been made to improve their living conditions.
In her speech in May, Mrs Teo said that the Government will study the issue and “look into areas where we could have done better, so that we will be better prepared the next time”.
On Monday, the Government announced its intent to develop new foreign worker dormitories, and refit unused state properties as part of plans to reduce the current density in the dormitories.
About 60,000 workers will be housed in temporary sites by the end of this year, while the authorities build new purpose-built dormitories over the next few years that will hold up to 100,000 workers.
Besides expanding housing availability for foreign workers, new dormitory specifications include increasing workers’ living space, having more sick bay beds, reducing the number of beds in a room, and cutting the number of people who have to share one toilet and bathroom.