MOM dorm operations expected to be financially sustainable

A company limited by guarantee will be set up by MOM to build and own two purpose-built dorms for foreign workers. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Nest Singapore, a new corporate entity to be set up by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) by the end of 2022 to run together with partners two dormitories for migrant workers, is expected to be financially sustainable.

"Nest is a company limited by guarantee, (and) in that sense, it is... no different from a dormitory operator," a MOM spokesman told reporters on Saturday, ahead of the company's launch by Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng.

However, the company will partner "other private sector players because we want to tap the expertise of the broader industry", the spokesman said.

One dorm, slated to begin operating in 2025, will be located in Tukang Innovation Lane in Jurong and be large enough to house 2,400 workers.

Another larger dorm is expected to have a capacity of 7,200 when it begins operation in Sengkang West in 2028.

Responding to questions on how the company's operations will be funded, the spokesman said: "We do expect the operations of the purpose-built dormitories by Nest to be financially sustainable over the operating duration."

But she added that Nest and MOM "will need to work through the details" of the company's government funding.

She also said existing regulations that apply to all purpose-built dorms will also apply to Nest's dorms, including licensing conditions under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (Feda), which regulates dorm operations, as well as frequency of inspections and penalties in the event of a breach.

"We understand that there may be some concerns on potential conflict of interest with MOM's role as a regulator and possible unfair advantage over the dormitory operators.

"Nest has not, and will not, receive any privileged information of purpose-built dormitory regulations and standards that will appear to give them an advantage in operating the purpose-built dormitories," she said.

She also said that private-sector tenders for new purpose-built dorms will continue to be launched by the Ministry of National Development.

In response to a question from The Straits Times, the spokesman also addressed why the larger dorm's location was changed from Kranji to Sengkang West, when MOM's intention to build two dorms was announced in September 2021.

She said that there are multiple sites earmarked for purpose-built dorms, and the Sengkang West site appeared on the list only after the announcement.

"We assessed the different options and we decided to go with Sengkang West because of the upcoming developments like the Punggol digital hub... around the area."

As it was found that the Sengkang West site could hold only 7,200 beds, down from at least 10,000 in Kranji, this also meant the total capacity of both dorms is 9,600, instead of more than 12,500 as previously announced.

The spokesman also said that the expected completion of both dorms was delayed from the previously announced 2024 as both sites need further land preparatory works such as sewage and road access.

The launch of the dorms follows closely behind an announcement in September that Feda will be extended to cover smaller dormitories with seven beds or more from April 1, 2023.

Some 1,600 dormitories housing about 440,000 migrant workers will fall under Feda, up from 53 larger dorms that account for 256,000 workers – a move poised to help the authorities contain disease outbreaks more quickly and potentially improve living standards.

It also comes after improved standards that apply to all new dorms built after September 2021 kicked in.

The Tukang dorm will house a maximum of 12 residents in each of its 200 rooms, which are spread across two wings – one 14 storeys high and the other, 10.

Amenities include a central courtyard and two cricket practice lanes on the ground floor, en-suite toilets and laundry facilities in each room, and an indoor gym.

A minimart, canteen, barber, ATM machines and an outdoor refreshment area will also be available and open for access to migrant workers living nearby.

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