80 breaches found at purpose-built dorms annually for the past 3 years: MOM

MOM said that, in all cases, the operators and employers were asked to rectify the lapses immediately. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - About 80 breaches each year have been found at purpose-built dormitories over the last three years, although the majority were for minor lapses, said the Ministry of Manpower on Wednesday (June 3).

Such minor lapses - accounting for about 60 per cent of the total breaches - include failing to maintain tidiness and cleanliness in one area of the dormitory, said an MOM spokesman in response to The Straits Times' queries on enforcement efforts at dorms.

The figures indicate that some operators committed multiple offences. Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in Parliament on May 4 that about 20 purpose-built dorms breach licensing conditions each year.

This is out of the 43 dorms in Singapore licensed under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (Feda). Each dorm can house 1,000 workers or more.

The MOM spokesman said: "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."

The living conditions of foreign workers have been in the spotlight in recent weeks, with more than 90 per cent of Covid-19 cases in Singapore coming from dorm residents.

In addition, 150 fire safety infringements were found in inspections by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) at purpose-built and factory-converted dorms in the past three years, said an SCDF spokesman in response to queries by ST. The infringements were discovered during the 362 inspections it conducted at these dorms.

Of the infringements, 143 resulted in composition fines. Seven were serious ones that led to court action, such as unauthorised fire safety works involving the erection of partition walls.

For purpose-built dorms, scheduled joint inspections are conducted by the SCDF and other regulatory agencies, such as MOM and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the SCDF spokesman. This is before MOM issues or renews their licences under Feda.

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SCDF also inspects dorms when it receives feedback about fire safety infringements, such as blocked exits and non-maintenance of fire safety equipment. Officers check for a range of offences under the Fire Safety Act, including unauthorised works like creating additional sleeping quarters in dorms.

SCDF will assess the severity of all non-compliance cases and take action such as imposing composition fines or taking court action, it said.

On the penalties that could be meted out, the MOM spokesman said that if there are breaches observed across the dorm, or are repeated, operators can be fined up to $50,000.

"In egregious cases where the operator has shown a blatant disregard for the welfare of their residents, we prosecute the operator. One such case was recently concluded in the courts where the operator has pleaded guilty."

MOM did not name this operator, but it was reported in March that two men and the company they work for, Labourtel Management Corporation, were the first to be convicted under Feda after the authorities inspected four facilities run by the company and found that some rooms were filthy.

MOM said that, in all cases, the operators and employers were asked to rectify the lapses immediately. Follow-up inspections were also done to ensure that the rectifications were satisfactory.

Employers who choose to house their workers on their own also have the accommodation inspected. In the last three years, MOM has taken action against an average of 1,200 employers a year for failing to ensure acceptable accommodation for their workers.

The most common offence, said the spokesman, relates to housing workers in overcrowded units or in unsanitary conditions.

"In addition to imposing a fine of up to $20,000 on these employers, MOM will withdraw their work pass privileges and bar them from hiring foreign workers."

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