Broad support for expanded dormitories law, but operators worried about transition costs

SINGAPORE – A move on Tuesday to regulate 1,600 migrant worker dormitories here under a single law drew broad support from an industry association and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) serving foreign workers.

But dormitory operators most impacted by the expansion of the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (Feda) are seeking greater clarity on new licensing conditions and how the law will be enforced.

Feda, which took effect in 2016, currently applies only to larger dorms that accommodate 1,000 or more workers.

From April 1 next year, it will be extended to smaller dormitories with seven beds or more, with four licence classes and tiered requirements based on dormitory size.

For Mr Bernard Menon, executive director of the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), the move to expand Feda comes after years of advocacy.

Since the enactment of Feda, MWC had been asking the authorities why only dorms with 1,000 or more beds needed to be regulated under the law, he said.

Mr Menon noted that most of the complaints MWC receives about poor housing standards involve smaller operators, and that it was these smaller dorms that needed the most help during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There was no unified code, so how do we professionalise the industry? How do we bring standards up across the board?” he asked.

“Once we have a baseline that is consistent throughout all dormitory operators, then you can look upwards… Otherwise, it is cowboy town, where everybody does their own thing.”

Dormitory Association of Singapore Limited (DASL) council member Eugene Aw said the 1,200 factory-converted dormitories (FCDs) here will be the most impacted by the expansion of Feda.

But the changes at this time mainly pertain to improvements in dormitory management so the added costs are manageable, as they are administrative, said Mr Aw, whose firm RT Group manages five FCDs that currently house 200 to 300 workers each.

While improved living standards introduced for newly built dorms in September last year are part of the Feda licensing requirements, existing dorms do not need to upgrade their infrastructure just yet.

The Ministry of Manpower said on Tuesday that it is still in talks with dorm operators and employers about a transition plan.