14 May 2013

Behind-the-Scenes of Operation 'K'

14 May 2013

My colleagues and I from the Housing Enforcement Branch of MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division inspected a few dormitories at the Kaki Bukit Industrial Terrace area recently.

Operation ‘K’ began just after 9 pm. Together with our team of more than 20 officers, we inspected five units in the area till after midnight.

Four of the factory-converted dormitories were clearly overcrowded, had poor ventilation and unacceptable housekeeping standards.  In the other unit, we found two workers staying in a makeshift shed at the entrance with no proper sanitary facility. This is clearly wrong.  

Dormitory inspection 

The employers of these workers have been told they cannot house any more workers in these overcrowded premises. We are currently investigating this closely with other government agencies. The employers were also given notices to move their workers to proper housing within the next two to four weeks.

Our work is important and we welcome the co-operation and help from the public. In the first four months of 2013, MOM conducted about 300 inspections, or around 70 each month. Last year, we took action against 1,062 employers for housing their foreign workers in unacceptable housing. They were either warned, offered composition or charged in court.

Besides proactive and targeted inspections, MOM also responds to specific complaints of poor housing from both foreign workers and the public. Operation ‘K’ was mounted as a result of a public tip off.

But it is not always the case that every public tip off will result in the detection of non-compliance with regulations. There are cases where false tip-offs are made, driven by malicious intent to sabotage or cause harassment. Sometimes it is due to misperceptions. Which is why it is important that tip-offs give accurate information about the non-compliance. In fact, we welcome good information as it helps our enforcement work.

We will take concrete actions when we assess the information provided to be useful and reliable. As you can see, we run many operations and we cannot afford to go on wild goose chases based on inadequate or erroneous information.

This is where everyone can play a part. You can tip us off if you come across poor housing conditions for foreign workers by giving us, where possible, specific information such as: 

Description of the living conditions;  
Estimated number of workers; and
Snap a picture – if possible.

We receive an average of 20 such tip-offs a week via email and on the phone. Detailed information allows us to sieve through the various tip-offs to find out which ones require more immediate attention, and which may be false.

Recently, a blogger who had highlighted some possible dormitory violations publicly questioned why we needed such specific information. When asked to give more information, the blogger asked us to refer to his earlier blog post.  However, the blog post only had the name of the street, where other dormitories and residential premises could be found. Without specific addresses, it would be time consuming and unproductive for MOM officers to expend resources to check every residence or unit along the same street.  The blogger knew the details but chose not to share it. And when he eventually did, he chose to publicly mock the process. It was unfortunate, but we appreciate the fact that the information was finally shared with us. 

If we feel strongly about helping affected workers, it is important to understand that more specific information means more timely interventions. With less specific information, it may take longer to locate the dormitories concerned or it would be disruptive to innocent business owners, when our housing operations team descends on their doorstep, even though they may not house a single foreign worker. 

MOM officers checking workers' identities

Although we spend much time on our investigations and inspections, often into the late hours as we have to wait till the workers come back, my colleagues and I are deeply committed to protecting the well-being of our foreign workers. We do believe in upholding the Public Service values of Integrity, Honesty, Objectivity and Impartiality.

At the end of such operations, when we see that irresponsible employers are taken to task, and the workers re-housed in proper housing, it gives me and my team a sense of satisfaction that we have made a difference in the lives of these workers. 

If you have any information, please do email us at with the specific information as soon as you can. This will ensure we are able to activate an inspection team to check on the premises, and prevent the employer/dormitory operator from getting away with such offences. 

You can also watch me and my team in action, as we inspected the Kaki Bukit premises:

Senior Housing Enforcement Officer
Foreign Manpower Management Division, MOM 

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