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Written Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower & Senior Minister of State, National Development, to Parliamentary Question on Regulation of Foreign Worker Quarters

Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower (a) whether the Ministry regulates the setting up, operations and location of foreign worker living quarters; (b) if not, what is the reason for not regulating; (c) if so, what regulations are applicable to foreign worker quarters; (d) on what basis are such quarters allowed to be located in or close to residential areas or areas zoned for only residential purposes; (e) what steps are taken to ensure continuing compliance with these regulations; and (f) what enforcement action will be taken when the quarters are found to be in breach of the regulations.

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin:

  1. Both the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Ministry of National Development (MND) lead an interagency effort on foreign worker housing issues. It is a multifaceted issue which requires close collaboration between government agencies.
  2. Sites for foreign worker housing are selected and approved for use as foreign worker accommodation based on various considerations, including the potential impact on adjoining residential areas, as well as technical and infrastructure constraints such as the suitability of roads and sewers in the area.
  3. Even after a site has been assessed to be suitable for use as foreign worker accommodation, various regulatory requirements imposed by multiple government agencies must be satisfied, to safeguard the well-being of workers. These include requirements on living space standards, structural and fire safety standards. Where workers are housed in institutional settings, such as in commercial dormitories and workers’ quarters in industrial premises, additional requirements pertaining to recreational and social amenities within the dormitory compound are considered.
  4. Construction workers may also be housed in temporary workers’ quarters at their work sites. Such workers’ quarters are transient and will cease when the construction works end. In addition, the housing of workers on-site helps to reduce traffic congestion from workers being ferried to and from their work sites.
  5. Workers’ quarters on construction sites, like other types of foreign worker housing, must meet the relevant technical requirements, even if they are only temporary. In particular, contractors who wish to house their workers on-site in a purpose-built temporary building or in the completed portion of the building under construction must comply with BCA’s Building Control regulations, which stipulate requirements on structural safety, ventilation and other aspects to safeguard the well-being of workers. The structural integrity of the workers’ quarters must be certified by a Professional Engineer.
  6. The requirements for foreign worker housing are actively enforced. Over the last three years, over 12,000 foreign workers have been found housed in unacceptable premises. As a result, enforcement action was taken against over 1,700 employers for failing to ensure that their foreign workers had acceptable accommodation; and over 1,900 owners and operators of illegal dormitories for breach of land use rules. More than 2,100 fines were issued, and more than 1,400 owners and occupiers have been prosecuted for fire safety and environmental health violations. These were the result of inspections by agencies such as MOM, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and the National Environment Agency (NEA).
  7. The relevant government agencies will continue to coordinate efforts to strengthen regulation of foreign worker housing, and to proactively detect and act against parties who breach the foreign worker housing requirements.