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Written Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower, to Parliamentary Question on Foreign Worker Quarters Set Up at Construction Sites

Notice Paper No. 261 Of 2014 For The Sitting On 09 September 2014 Question No. 194 For Written Answer

MP: Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong

To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) how many construction firms have been given permission to set up foreign worker quarters on their construction sites; (b) how does the Ministry ensure that the living standard of these on-site quarters is in line with the Government's stated intent to improve the living conditions of foreign workers; (c) what incentives can the Ministry give to employers to house foreign workers in purpose-built dormitories with facilities such as recreational and eating spaces; and (d) whether the Ministry will consider stiffer penalties for employers who house their foreign workers in cheap, sub-standard living conditions such as limiting their quota for employing foreign workers.


  1. Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers of work permit holders are required to ensure that their foreign workers have accommodation that meets the regulatory requirements of various agencies. These requirements include living space standards, structural and fire safety, as well as proper sanitation to safeguard the well-being of the occupants.
  2. Employers can currently house foreign workers in a variety of approved accommodation, including various types of dormitories and workers’ quarters. Employers may choose appropriate accommodation depending on their business requirements and the needs of the workers, provided the accommodation meets the standards set by the relevant authorities that safeguard the safety and well-being of foreign workers. A good number of workers in the construction industry is already housed in purpose-built dormitories. In a few months, we will be proposing new legislation pertaining to the regulation and licensing of purpose-built dormitories.
  3. At the same time, we also recognise that there are benefits to housing workers at or close to their workplaces as this reduces the need for workers to be ferried to and from their workplaces. This could provide workers with more time to rest outside of working hours, reduce traffic congestion and crowding, and hopefully also enhance workers’ productivity.
  4. Specific to workers’ quarters on construction sites, contractors must meet BCA’s structural safety requirements and SCDF’s fire safety standards. All workers’ quarters must comply with specifications relating to ceiling height, ventilation, staircase width and lightning protection requirements. Contractors must also meet NEA’s requirements for adequate and proper sanitary and bathing facilities, as well as SCDF’s requirements pertaining to sufficient living space per worker. Our data shows that there are over 70,000 foreign workers living in construction quarters.
  5. Employers must ensure that foreign worker accommodation continues to be well-maintained throughout their workers’ stay in the premises, such that their well-being is not compromised. MOM actively conducts enforcement inspections, often in collaboration with relevant agencies such as NEA, SCDF and URA to ascertain that the workers’ accommodation meets regulatory requirements. Over the last 3 years, on average, over 900 premises are checked each year.
  6. For each worker found housed in non-approved accommodation, employers are currently liable to a fine of up to $10,000, or imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both. These penalties were doubled only two years ago, when the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act was amended in November 2012. Errant employers will also be barred from applying for new work passes or renewing existing work passes. In addition, owners and occupiers of premises used as illegal foreign worker housing will be taken to task by the relevant authorities.
  7. We encourage members of the public to come forward if they have any information that the well-being of foreign workers is being compromised, so that the relevant government agencies can investigate and take action against errant employers or premises owners and occupiers.