The number of breaches of foreign worker housing rules has fallen over the past three years, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) revealed yesterday.
However, the authorities are still keeping a close eye on private residential premises, where most violations have been found, and looking to stepping up enforcement with the help of data analytics.
The number of offenders caught flouting the housing rules dropped to 1,176 last year, down from 1,316 in 2016 and 1,451 in 2015, MOM said. There were 512 offenders in the first six months of this year. MOM conducted more than 4,600 inspections from 2015 to last year.
These took place at locations ranging from purpose-built dormitories to private residential premises, which house some 700,000 work permit holders in Singapore.
The dip in contraventions comes as the authorities raised regulatory standards, such as by introducing the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act in 2016. Under the Act, the 50 or so large purpose-built dorms here - each with at least 1,000 beds - have to adhere to stricter rules.
MOM also imposed new requirements for factory-converted dormitories last year, and new rules for temporary quarters at construction sites this year.
"Over the last year, (we have) tightened regulations in terms of the maximum number of occupants you can have in private residencies. That settles the main contravention we find, which is over-crowding," Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said yesterday. Operators might house workers in overcrowded conditions to maximise revenue or income. "That's not right. We do need to review this and enforce a lot more efficiently," said Mr Zaqy.
Contraventions in private residential premises are harder to catch as well, with these housing spaces being in different pockets.
"We have also started to tighten our enforcement efforts with the use of data analytics, to look at predictive modelling," he added.
Mr Zaqy was speaking on the sidelines of his visit to two workers' dormitories. "I can't specify the modelling or factors that we use, but generally it helps us better narrow down the more likely offenders."
MOM also said it will continue to step up enforcement at private residential premises, which account for about 60 per cent of complaints.
Meanwhile, the Migrant Workers' Centre is exploring ways to develop a whistle-blowing mechanism for the public to flag breaches, said its chairman, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang.
"It can be in the form of a mobile app, so the general public can easily snap and send us information," he said. "That will help strengthen multi-agency enforcement, to improve the housing conditions in private housing residential areas."
Mr Zaqy said he hopes events such as the Dormitory Awards - which he will present next Wednesday - can help to showcase good practices and motivate operators to meet similar standards in foreign worker housing. "Understandably, some (spaces) may have been fitted many years ago but over time, we hope that with better competition and better facilities, many of these can also be reviewed."