Operator of overcrowded dorm fined $300k

The Blue Stars dormitory in Boon Lay was found to have 5,098 bed spaces during an inspection last July. MOM said the operator had "severely compromised" the health and well-being of the workers residing there by overcrowding the dorm.
The Blue Stars dormitory in Boon Lay was found to have 5,098 bed spaces during an inspection last July. MOM said the operator had "severely compromised" the health and well-being of the workers residing there by overcrowding the dorm.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

KT Mesdorm is first to be prosecuted and convicted; it housed 5,042 at dormitory meant for 4,500 workers

A dormitory operator has been fined $300,000 for housing foreign workers in overcrowded conditions.

KT Mesdorm was convicted of intentionally causing three companies to breach a work pass condition by housing their foreign workers in overcrowded accommodation at its Blue Stars Dormitory.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday the operator was issued the fine on Tuesday for contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA).

KT Mesdorm, which pleaded guilty to 30 charges, is the first dormitory operator to be prosecuted and convicted in court.

According to MOM, employers committed 2,300 offences involving unapproved accommodation last year, up from 1,400 in 2014.

In this case, a joint inspection by MOM and the Singapore Civil Defence Force on July 30 last year found 5,098 bed spaces and 5,042 foreign workers residing at Blue Stars.

The dorm in Boon Lay was permitted to house 4,500 workers.

"By intentionally taking in more residents than permitted, KT Mesdorm had caused the infrastructure and amenities in the dormitory to be overtaxed, resulting in overcrowded, unsanitary and unhygienic living conditions," MOM said.

"The health and well-being of the workers residing in the dormitory were severely compromised."

The companies which had tenancy agreements with KT Mesdorm were not aware that the dormitory had exceeded its approved occupancy limit, MOM added.

Ms Jeanette Har, director of the well-being department of MOM's foreign manpower management division, said it will continue to step up inspections and "take stern action where appropriate".

She said: "The dormitory housed 500 foreign workers more than the allowed limit... a serious breach as overcrowding compromises fire safety and conditions of living."

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, employers are required to provide accommodation that complies with the various statutory requirements for foreign workers.

Dorm operators who provide unapproved accommodation and thereby aid employers to breach the regulations violate the EFMA.

Offenders face a fine of up to $10,000 and jail of up to 12 months for each offence.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Migrant Workers' Centre, said that the fine might not serve the intended deterrence against such practices.

"There may be a need to step up the frequency and rigour of these checks," he said.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of migrant workers group Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics, said that the group "regularly sees workers, especially those in the construction sector, who have to endure decrepit conditions".

"Workers who wish to file complaints are often afraid of getting into trouble. Workers need to have assurance that they don't lose their jobs and get sent home in debt," he added.

A spokesman for KT Mesdorm said the company "acknowledges there were lapses" and has taken "steps to rectify the situation... working with the tenants and employers on hygiene practices".

The company also said that "responsibility goes two ways", and that it constantly tries to educate workers who live in the dormitories about cleanliness.

However, given the transitory nature of workers' stays, there is an added challenge in the constant need to educate new tenants on good hygiene, it said.

KT Mesdorm is in talks to redevelop the dormitory, which was built in 2001, based on new standards.

Mr Ashit Biswas, 32, a Bangladeshi worker who has been in Singapore for eight years and lived in Blue Stars for 10 months, said the dormitory was "good" in comparison to his previous residence here.

"In the previous place, there was nowhere for me to cook, but here I have a kitchen; I can buy ingredients from the market."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2016, with the headline 'Operator of overcrowded dorm fined $300k'. Print Edition | Subscribe