What about smaller dorms?

What about smaller dorms?
A dormitory in Sungei Kadut that was converted from a factory.

SINGAPORE - MPs welcomed new Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill, which was passed in Parliament yesterday, but raised concerns about exclusion of smaller dorms in it. FOO JIE YING (fjieying@sph.com.sg) reports

Why look at dormitories with 1,000 or more beds when the condition of the smaller ones here leave much to be desired?

That was the sentiment echoed by several MPs who spoke about the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill (FEDB) yesterday.

The FEDB caters to purpose-built dorms with 1,000 beds and above. It is complementary to the existing regulations for smaller dorms here.

Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef said: "Sure, there are current guidelines that have been present and are in practice, but you and I know that there are some improvements that need to be done."

There are 50 purpose-built dorms collectively providing about 200,000 beds.

Some MPs, like Nominated MP Lina Chiam, even called the smaller dorms "slums".

"Are there slums in our first-world Singapore? Yes, by looking at the condition of many of our foreign workers.

"It is ironic that our foreign workers (are) being housed in such appalling conditions while... working hard at the same time to earn (a) meagre salary... to build luxury apartments and bungalows for Singaporeans and expatriates," said Mrs Chiam.

Some, like Dr Lee Bee Wah, asked how the "magic figure" of 1,000 came about.

The MP for Nee Soon GRC said: "I would think putting a few hundred people under a roof is a sizeable crowd. It poses challenges to manage even with just 50 people under one roof..."

NOT ALL MISTREATED

In response, Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said it is important for the MPs not to think that there is widespread mistreatment of foreign workers.

"Does it mean that every single accommodation in Singapore is in that fashion? No," he said. "Are there egregious cases? There are.

"But I would like to emphasise that these instances that we see, they are unacceptable, and in many instances, they already violate existing laws," he said.

On how the ministry arrived at the 1,000 figure, Mr Tan explained that this is to cater to more purpose-built dorms that will be built in the future.

"We are going to have a lot more of (purpose-built dorms). That's why it's important for this Bill to move now, instead of waiting for a complete solution," he said.

Citing news of foreign worker dorms that made headlines, including The New Paper's report of illegal flatted dorms at Tampines, Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh said: "... The large number of these continuing violations and inspections suggest that Singapore, a first-world economy by any stretch, does not host a robust enough framework governing the housing of foreign workers even as this Bill is a step in the correct direction."

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng recognised the existing regulations for smaller dorms, but raised the need to beef up on enforcement.

"I echo the concerns expressed by other MPs on the need to pay even closer attention to smaller dorms, where the most egregious housing violations tend to take place, in tandem with these additional regulations for larger dorms under this Bill," she said.

Referring to the existing rules smaller dorms are bound by, Mr Tan said: "What (the MPs) raised isn't about the regulations not being comprehensive. I think it's about enforcement... We recognise that. Enforcement is in place, but we will step up."

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