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27 June 2011

Joint raid on dormitory with poor living conditions

27 June 2011

Prior to a tip-off from a member of the public, MOM’s Housing Enforcement Branch officers had started covert surveillance to assess the conditions of the dormitory at 16 Woodlands Industrial Park E1. Following field observations, MOM and URA then decided to mount an inspection on the dormitory.   

On 16 June after 10pm, more than 20 MOM and URA enforcement officers swooped in on the said dormitory for a late-night surprise inspection. 

 A surprise inspection was conducted at 16 Woodlands Industrial Park E1.


 Bicycles parked haphazardly along the pedestrian walk.

There were tell-tale signs of overcrowding even before we stepped inside. Bicycles were parked haphazardly outside the premises, making it impossible for pedestrians to walk along the pavement.


Peeled onion skins, prawn shells and other leftover food ingredients were strewn all over the kitchen floor.

Litters surrounded the rows of lockers.
As we entered the dormitory, we were greeted by a strong stench, possibly originating from the dormitory’s kitchen on the ground level. It was a sight to behold – peeled onion skins, prawn shells and other leftover food ingredients were strewn all over the floor. Utensils for raw and cooked items were not separated, and the woks were stained with grease from overuse.

With only nine functioning toilets
and no shower points, these were hardly enough for all the workers during the morning peak hour when they prepare to go to work.


MOM officer recording the particulars of a foreign worker.

Foreign workers showing their work permits.

While some of our officers inspected the area, others begun to cordon off the premises and started checking the work permits of all foreign workers living within the building. This is part of MOM’s routine to ensure that the foreign workers all held valid work passes. Our officers also interviewed the workers to find out if there were any instances of salary arrears and to understand their individual situation better.
 
Narrow passage in between the partitioned rooms
All rooms are equipped with double-decked beds
Rules for the foreign workers set by the dormitory
MOM officers counting the number of foreign workers staying in each room


As our officers maneuvered through the narrow corridors along the second and third floors, we also witnessed the cramped living conditions and the safety hazards the foreign workers had to put up with as live wires dangled from the ceilings. What caught our eye was also a notice put up on every room door listing the 19 fines to be levied on any worker who violated the dormitory rules.

On each floor, there were about 17 to 19 room partitioned out of wooden boards. Foreign workers of various nationalities were staying in this dormitory. Rows of double-deck beds filled each room. Workers clothes hung from their bedside. In some rooms, the workers had TV and DVD despite the cramped conditions. Although this is not the worse case, this joint inspection uncovered a total of 466 foreign workers from 37 companies residing in this overcrowded dormitory – more than double the 215 it was allowed to house. Employers of foreign workers found at the premises have been asked to relocate the foreign workers to proper housing by 21 July 2011. The MOM is investigating the case and will also take appropriate enforcement action against those established to be responsible for failing to ensure acceptable accommodation for the workers.


Last year, MOM enforced against more than 1,700 employers for failing to ensure acceptable accommodation to their foreign workers. So far this year, MOM has taken action against more than 260 employers for the same offence. 


“Since 2009, MOM has successfully relocated more than 21,000 foreign workers to proper accommodation. Such housing inspections are a collaborative effort, involving not just MOM but multiple Government agencies such as the URA (land use), SCDF (fire and safety standards) and NEA (environmental health requirements). Employers who fail to ensure that their foreign workers have acceptable accommodation can be warned, offered composition or prosecuted under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Members of the public with feedback on the housing conditions of foreign worker dormitories may write in to MOM at mom_fmmd@mom.gov.sg. All tip-offs will be kept strictly confidential.

The working and living conditions of foreign workers in Singapore is a sensitive topic that attracts the attention of local and international media, NGOs as well as Singaporeans. In a land-scare country like Singapore, foreign worker housing is an issue which needs to be managed carefully through close coordination among various agencies. Over the past few years, MOM, URA, NEA and SCDF were involved in various pro-active joint operations to relocate migrant workers from unacceptable accommodation.


MOM’s Housing Enforcement Branch is a small team with less than 30 officers. In the photo essay, the faces of our officers are not shown as they conduct covert surveillance and night inspections at dormitories regularly. At an hour where most Singaporeans are turning to bed, our officers worked till the wee hours to record particulars of the foreign workers living at the inspected premises. Their work exposed them to a side of Singapore that is not seen by the public eye. 


Working on a mantra of an ‘acceptable home away from home’ for foreign workers, our enforcement officers ensure that employers who brought in these workers house the workers in accommodation with proper sanitation and basic amenities.

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