Coronavirus pandemic

New standards to be piloted at upcoming Quick Build Dorms

Such shorter-term housing will see fewer residents sharing a room, toilets and sick bays

The purpose-built dorms will have amenities like minimarts, barber shops and indoor recreation facilities. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

New standards will be established for upcoming migrant worker dormitories, including lowering the number of residents per room and the number of people who must share toilets and sick bays.

These specifications, announced yesterday, will be piloted at upcoming Quick Build Dormitories that form part of the short-to medium-term housing for 60,000 workers to be built by the end of this year.

Another 100,000 spaces to replace these shorter-term arrangements are also in the works, including 60,000 beds at 11 purpose-built dorms that will be ready in the next two years, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said at a virtual media conference.

The purpose-built dorms will have amenities like minimarts, barber shops and indoor recreation facilities as well as access to medical care and support.

These are part of efforts to reduce the density of the dorms, and also to ensure that the dorms would be more resilient to public health risks such as pandemics, added Mr Wong, who is co-chair of a multi-ministry task force handling the coronavirus outbreak.

Excess capacity is being built at these new dorms. The extra space can be used to house workers from existing ones so that they, too, can be upgraded to meet newer standards. "This will be a major building programme that we are putting in place to build additional capacity with higher standards," said Mr Wong.

The living conditions of foreign workers in dormitories have come under scrutiny in recent weeks as the workers account for more than 90 per cent of Covid-19 cases here.

The Quick Build Dormitories are semi-permanent structures that will last for about two to three years, with a total capacity of about 25,000. Sites identified for these dorms include Kranji Way, Choa Chu Kang Way and Tampines Industrial Avenue 2.

The dorms will have no more than 10 beds per room, with only single deck beds and 1m spacing between them. Each room currently holds 12 to 16 beds.

Not more than five people will share a toilet, bathroom and sink, compared with 15 people currently. Each resident will enjoy 6 sq m of living space, compared with 4.5 sq m now.

Other shorter-term arrangements that are being planned include the temporary fitting out of state properties that are currently not in use, such as former schools and vacant factories. These will provide space for about 25,000 beds in total.

Apart from this, there will be additional temporary on-site housing at construction sites. This will help contractors cut down on transportation costs.

The upcoming purpose-built dorms will have blocks that are well spaced out to ensure good ventilation, the Manpower and National Development ministries said in a joint statement.

The move to improve dormitory standards has been an ongoing process and this is not the first time that such an exercise is being attempted, said Mr Wong.

Responding to a question on whether the Government would consider taking over the building and operations of these dorms, as well as about the costs involved, Mr Wong said different models are still being studied, including one where the Government builds and owns the asset.

Acknowledging that the additional and improved dorms will come at a higher cost, Mr Wong said the best way to manage this cost increase would have to be worked out, although employers and dorm operators will have to bear part of it. But the Government may consider providing some support as a transitionary measure, he added.

He stressed that changes would need to be made not just in terms of the "hardware", or the building of dorms.

"I think we have learnt from this experience that an important part of this process for infection control is the management of the dormitories. That is quite critical.

"So, our aim will be to find ways to improve that management capacity in order to ensure that the workers in the dormitories have good living standards, but also are kept safe, even through what is likely to be the reality of Covid-19 for quite some time to come."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2020, with the headline New standards to be piloted at upcoming Quick Build Dorms. Subscribe