At the dormitory where construction worker Rahul Amin, 28, lives, above a factory, it costs about $20 each month to use the Wi-Fi network for the Internet.
He prefers to spend the money on a data plan instead so he can keep in touch with family and friends from anywhere, but it means he cannot watch movies to relax while in the dormitory. "If we just work and sleep, it's quite boring," he said.
But from next year, more of the 80,000 or so workers like him who live in factory-converted dormitories (FCDs) will have access to free Wi-Fi, as their living quarters will come under new regulations announced by Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck yesterday.
The rules kick in on Jan 1 and also require operators to provide workers with personal lockers, a way to provide feedback on their accommodations and at least one sick bay or contingency plans to contain infectious diseases.
Under existing regulations, they must already provide basic amenities, such as one electrical point per worker, bed frames and clean sanitation facilities. Companies will have to provide documents and photos to show they are keeping to the rules when they apply for a licence or to renew an existing one.
Since August last year, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) has inspected about 900 of the 1,000 FCDs here and taken enforcement action, such as warnings or prosecution, against 160 which were found to be overcrowded, or have poor hygiene standards, or other substandard living conditions. The 50 or so large purpose-built dorms with at least 1,000 beds have to adhere to stricter rules under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act, which took effect on Jan 1 this year.
Mr Teo said that the new conditions for FCDs will help to ensure that workers are better taken care of. The rules were decided on after feedback from industry players.
"They are conducive and basic enough that they will help the workers in their day-to-day living," he told some 600 company representatives at a an FCD seminar in the Textile Centre.
Although some companies were worried about rising costs, Mr Teo said they would benefit in the long run if their workers were happier, worked harder and did not have medical problems or social issues.
Ms Chew Huey Fong, a human resource manager of a manufacturing company in MacPherson with a dormitory for about 60 workers, said the firm already has lockers for workers but will need to add Wi-Fi.
She added that it can be difficult to ensure that rooms meet MOM's standard of cleanliness without workers' cooperation.
Mr Teo also said that his ministry will be introducing a new set of awards to recognise exemplary dormitory operators who do more for their residents than what is required, and to educate other operators on best practices.
The assessment will be done by dormitory residents, government agencies and other associations. More details will be announced at a later date, MOM said.