1,600 worker dorms to be under single law in order to curb disease outbreaks

·Senior Reporter
·3 min read
Migrant workers look on from their dormitory in Singapore.
Migrant workers look on from their dorm, declared as an isolation area, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore on 30 April, 2020. (Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — From 1 April next year, 1,600 foreign worker dormitories, up from 53 currently, will be covered under a single framework that empowers authorities to raise their operating standards and impose rules to control disease outbreaks.

The Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA) will be expanded to include dorms with seven or more beds, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Tuesday (6 September) in a press release. Currently, only dorms with 1,000 or more beds are licensed under FEDA.

The updated Act will cover factory-converted dorms, temporary construction quarters as well as non-government organisation shelters, employment agencies’ boarding houses, and others.

In total, 439,000 beds in 1,600 dorms will come under the framework, up from 256,000 beds in 53 dorms.

"This is a significant step forward in our multi-year roadmap to transform our workers’ living environments for greater resilience and livability," said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon.

Currently, all dorms fall under different legislation covering areas such as fire safety, living conditions, sanitary, and public health requirements. Only dorms with 1,000 beds or more licensed under FEDA have to follow additional rules for public health and safety, and the provision of recreation and commercial facilities for their residents.

Under the new FEDA, dorms will be under four licence classes based on size: Class 1 (7 to 99 beds), Class 2 (100 to 299 beds), Class 3 (300 to 999 beds), and Class 4 (1,000 beds or more).

A set of mandatory living conditions – such as minimum space per resident, maximum room occupancy, cleanliness, and ventilation – will apply to all dorms. Larger ones have to abide by more stringent rules on dormitory management, resident welfare and safety, and health.

Other requirements include putting in place additional isolation facility capacity and further infection prevention and control measures, such as the use of personal protection equipment and a higher cleaning frequency.

Existing dorms with 1,000 beds or more can continue to operate normally as they are already licensed under FEDA, said MOM.

New dorms which intend to begin operations on or after 1 April next year must apply for a full FEDA licence, which will be valid for three years.

Existing dorms with 7 to 999 beds, as well as new dorms that intend to begin operations before 1 April next year, must apply for a provisional FEDA licence from January next year, which will be valid for up to two years.

MOM said it will brief dormitory operators, conduct checks, and support dormitory operators to meet the FEDA requirements.

Dormitory Association Singapore Limited president Johnathan Cheah said, "We are committed to ensuring the dormitory workforce is well-equipped as we spearhead efforts to uplift the industry’s capabilities."

The new rules come after the Singapore government was criticised in the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic for failing to take stricter measures earlier to curb the spread of the coronavirus in dorms. A number of dorms were found to be cramped and unhygienic, according to various media reports and findings by non-government organisations.

In May 2020, then National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that the safeguards against COVID-19 in foreign worker dorms were insufficient.

For a period during the pandemic, a strict lockdown was imposed on over 300,000 foreign workers who dwell in dorms, with movement requirements more restrictive than those observed by the broader community, in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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