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Ministry of Manpower Introduces the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill 2014

4 November 2014

  1. In the Committee of Supply debate in March 2014, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that additional regulations for larger foreign worker (FW) dormitories will be imposed through new legislation.

  2. Currently, all FW housing are already subject to regulatory standards to safeguard the well-being of resident FWs. These include requirements pertaining to restrictions on subletting and renting of private residential premises to prevent overcrowding and unauthorised change of use to workers’ quarters, fire and structural safety, and environmental health, under agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and National Environment Agency (NEA) (details provided in Annex A). The relevant agencies will continue to step up enforcement, and review these requirements from time to time.
  3. The Government’s view is that in the longer term, it would be better to house work permit holders (WPHs) in Purpose-Built Dormitories (PBDs), where there are self-contained facilities to meet their social and recreational needs outside work. More PBDs will be launched and completed over the next two to three years, with a view to move more WPHs into such self-contained housing over time.
  4. Given the unique complexities and risks in managing larger dormitories, there is a need for tighter controls to be imposed on them as more of these are completed and start operations over the next few years. These dormitories carry a greater risk in the event of mismanagement, for instance during a public order incident or an infectious disease outbreak. They also have a greater impact on surrounding communities. Dormitory residents may also impose additional loading on the local transport network or contribute to overcrowding at shared communal facilities in the vicinity. Such larger dormitories have the scale to implement amenities and facilities such as outdoor recreation spaces, to address such concerns.
  5. MOM will therefore introduce the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill, which encompasses the additional regulations for larger dormitories, for First Reading at the Parliament Sitting on 4 November 2014. (Please refer to Annex B for the draft Bill.)

    Proposed Additional Regulations for Larger Dormitories
  6. To complement the various existing measures to manage FW housing, MOM proposes these additional requirements to address the unique risks associated with larger dormitories:

    a) Licensing of Larger Dormitories

    • Dormitories with 1,000 or more beds will be required to obtain a licence, in addition to complying with all existing regulatory standards. This means that all current1 and upcoming PBDs will have to be licensed in 2015.

    • Broadly, the new licensing framework will mandate the:

       o Management of public health and safety issues;
       o Management of security and public order issues, and
       o Provision and maintenance of social and commercial facilities and services.

    • Each licence will be valid for up to three years.

    b) Penalties

    • The holder of the dormitory licence will be the dormitory operator responsible for the day-to-day running of the dormitory. Nonetheless, the premises may be owned by a separate proprietor who either sublets the premises to the operator for use as a dormitory; or appoints the operator to manage the daily operations on his behalf. In such instances, we will hold proprietors accountable where they, rather than the operators, have more control, for example, in making repairs or alterations to the premises.

    • It is proposed that the penalties are set sufficiently high for a deterrent effect.

    • In particular, the maximum penalty for operating an unlicensed dormitory is a fine of up to $500,000 and / or imprisonment of up to two years. For a repeat offence, the penalties are doubled to a fine of up to $1,000,000 and / or imprisonment of up to four years. These penalties apply to operators as well as proprietors who knowingly allow their premises to be used as unlicensed dormitories.

    • The licensed dormitory operator will also have to comply with the licensing conditions, which cover obligations like managing public health and security risks, and providing and maintaining amenities. The maximum penalty for each breach of a licensing condition is a fine of up to $50,000 and / or imprisonment of up to one year.

    • Apart from such penalties, MOM will be able to suspend or revoke licences and debar persons from operating larger dormitories, taking into account the scale of the breaches.

    c) Enforcement Powers

    • Public officers who are appointed as dormitory inspectors will be provided with the necessary investigatory and enforcement powers, including the authority to enter, search and collect evidence from premises, to effectively enforce the additional regulations.
  7. Existing dormitories were built based on past tender specifications that excluded the stipulation of these additional requirements. Given this, implementation flexibilities will be given to existing dormitory operators, including giving them up to six months to obtain a licence from the date the proposed Bill comes into effect.
  8. Minister for Manpower Mr Tan Chuan-Jin said, “The Government has been speeding up the construction of dormitories which, beyond providing adequate living space, have self-contained amenities and recreational facilities which meet the daily basic living and recreational needs of foreign workers. As more of these dormitories come onstream, which given their size, are more complex to manage, we need to impose tighter controls on these dormitories to ensure they are managed effectively. I am glad that from our engagements with industry, the operators are on board with us on this.”

  9. MOM will work closely with the Dormitory Association of Singapore Limited on the implementation of the additional regulations, which are targeted for roll-out in the second half of 2015.

Annex A

Background on the IMC on FW management and FW housing landscape

  1. An Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), set up in 2008, has overseen the management of the foreign workforce in Singapore2. The committee takes a holistic and long-term view of issues like housing, transport, security and the impact of foreign worker dormitories on local communities.
  2. Under the IMC, numerous initiatives have been coordinated and undertaken by the relevant Government agencies. These include the setting up of dedicated FW recreation centres, educating FWs about Singapore laws and social norms; and deploying uniformed auxiliary police officers in locations with high concentrations of FWs.3 These initiatives complement the work of agencies like the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) in maintaining general order and cleanliness in public areas, and enforcing against offences such as littering.
  3. One of the main areas overseen by the IMC is that of housing the work permit holder (WPH) population. There are currently about 770,000 non-domestic WPHs in Singapore. About half are either Malaysians who commute to work daily and do not need dormitory beds; or those working in the manufacturing and services sectors, who generally rent and live in HDB flats and in private estates near their workplaces. A large majority of the remaining half are non-Malaysian construction, marine and process workers who are housed in various types of dormitories.
  4. All FW housing are already subject to regulatory standards to safeguard the well-being of resident FWs. These will continue to apply to all FW housing, and include:

    (i) Restrictions on leasing and subletting of private residential premises to prevent overcrowding and unauthorised change-of-use to workers’ quarters by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)

    (ii) Upkeep and maintenance of sanitary and hygiene conditions as well as measures to deal with pest (e.g. breeding of mosquitoes, flies and rodents) control by the National Environment Agency (NEA)

    (iii) Acceptable standards in the aspect of sewerage system provision and maintenance, as well as the sufficiency and quality of water supply by the Public Utilities Board (PUB)

    (iv) Building structural safety by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA)

    (v) Fire and safety standards (e.g. the minimum amount of space required per person, unobstructed passageways) by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF)

    The relevant agencies will continue to step up enforcement, and also review these requirements from time to time.
  5. The Government’s view is that in the longer term, it is better to house WPHs in purpose-built dormitories (PBDs) where there are self-contained facilities to meet their social and recreational needs outside work. A key strategic initiative for the IMC has thus been the building of more PBDs. PBDs provide WPHs with adequate living space, as well as basic amenities and recreational facilities such as gyms, canteens, television rooms and computer access. These help to ensure that the daily basic living and recreational needs of WPHs are taken care of, while also minimising the impact of such large concentrations of WPHs on surrounding communities. Over the next few years, our priority is to launch and complete more PBD sites.
  6. Housing WPHs in larger dormitories comes with its own set of complexities. Therefore, there is a need for these larger dormitories to be further regulated in terms of tighter controls for public health, security measures, as well as recreational and commercial amenities (e.g. minimarts). MOM will therefore be introducing the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill, for First Reading at the Parliament Sitting on 4 November 2014.

1Two existing PBDs will not need to be licensed in 2015, because they have fewer than 1,000 beds and their leases will run out within the next year.

2The IMC is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam. The Committee comprises:
   • Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Lim Hng Kiang;
   • Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan;
   • Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan;
   • Minister for Transport, Mr Lui Tuck Yew;
   • Minister for Manpower, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin; and
   • Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and 2nd Minister for Home Affairs, and Trade and Industry, Mr S Iswaran.

3In addition, where there is a need to address issues resulting from the presence of large numbers of FWs in specific locales, local-level multi-agency taskforces, involving agencies such as the Singapore Police Force, NEA, URA, Land Transport Authority, the relevant Town Council and MOM, have been set up. These taskforces work closely with the Advisors and grassroots leaders to develop solutions tailored to the specific needs of these areas, such as enhanced cleaning of common spaces frequented by FWs.