SINGAPORE: Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) expressed disappointment that a significant population of migrant workers will persist in living under outdated dormitory standards, lacking limitations on the number of residents per room and the required spacing between beds.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday (24 January), the migrant worker advocacy group highlighted a recent revelation by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regarding the numbers of purpose-built dormitories (PBDs) and factory-converted dormitories (FCDs) not meeting the interim standards outlined in the Dormitory Transition Scheme (DTS).
On 10 January, in a written answer to a Parliamentary Question (PQ) filed by Workers’ Party MP Louis Chua, MOM confirmed that around 80% of the 54 PBDs and more than 95% of FCDs do not currently meet the interim standards.
40% PBDs exempted from DTS interim standards
Regarding PBDs and FCDs operating under outdated standards, MOM revealed that around 40% and 20%, respectively, will be exempted from meeting the improved interim housing standards announced in October 2023.
MOM defended this exemption, citing the short remaining lease durations of these dormitories, deeming it impractical to mandate retrofitting to meet DTS interim standards.
This works out to be about 17 PBDs. which can accommodate anywhere from 1,000 to over 10,000 workers. For residents in these 17 PBDs, where leases expire in 9 years or less, the interim standards do not apply.
FCDs are factories that have been partially converted into dormitories.
“Any new or redeveloped dormitories on new leases will instead be required to meet the new dormitory standards that were announced in September 2021,” added MOM.
The ministry did not elaborate on the definition of “short remaining leases,” although it had previously stated that dorms with leases expiring in 2033 or earlier would be exempted from the transition.
The Dormitory Transition Scheme (DTS) is a plan to improve the standards of Singapore’s existing worker dormitories. The scheme aims to protect public health following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020.
The interim standards, announced by MOM in October last year, include a minimum living space of 3.6 sq m per resident, with a recommendation that beds be at least 1m apart — aligning with International Labour Organization standards for worker housing.
Approximately 1,000 foreign worker dormitories in Singapore are intended to enhance the ability of worker dorms to manage disease outbreaks and transition to meet the full set of new standards by 2040, including a minimum living space of 4.2 sq m per resident.
MOM specified that existing PBDs and FCDs must meet the interim standards by 2030.
The majority is expected to progressively meet these standards between 2027 and 2030, with a “small handful” of large dorms doing so earlier due to a higher assessed public health risk.
TWC2 conveys disappointment over erosion of progress in improving migrant workers’ dormitory standards
In response, TWC2 expressed disappointment that even three years after the introduction of new standards for migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, it appears that much of the progress has been diluted.
“Existing worker dormitories are required by the authorities to make much-needed and overdue changes by 2040, with a set of interim standards to conform to by 2030.”
“Yet, around 40% of the largest class of dormitories on the old standards look to be exempt from these changes, as their leases expire in 2033 or earlier.”
Sharon Tan, TWC2 Exco member, emphasizes the crucial need to maintain focus on a fundamental goal and imperative: enhancing the housing quality for the thousands of migrant workers integral to Singapore’s success.
“Our nation is a first-world country- but migrant workers here seem to live in third-world conditions.”
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