In answer to a question by People’s Action Party backbencher Fatimah Lateef about housing male foreign workers, Minister of State for Manpower, Tan Chuan-jin said his ministry was expediting the construction of more dormitories.  He also revealed that there were 670,000 male work permit holders at the present time.

In Parliament, October 20, 2011:


Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateefasked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Manpower (a) what is the current number of foreign workers in Singapore; (b) how many bed spaces are allocated to foreign workers (excluding foreign domestic workers who live in their employers’ homes); (c) how does the Ministry manage any shortfall in bed spaces for foreign workers; and (d) where are foreign workers without bed spaces currently accommodated.

BG [NS] Tan Chuan-Jin (for the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Manpower): Mr Speaker, there are currently 670,000 foreign non-domestic work permit holders accommodated in a variety of housing options including purpose-built dormitories, workers’ quarters on construction sites, converted industrial properties, HDB flats and private residential premises.

Housing of foreign workers in proper accommodation is a multi-faceted issue which involves close collaboration between different Government Ministries and agencies. A Foreign Worker Housing Coordinating Committee, jointly led by MOM and MND, oversees this issue. Since 2007, the Government has been launching new sites for dormitories to meet the need for foreign worker housing. There are currently over 140,000 bed spaces for foreign workers in purpose-built dormitories which mainly house workers from the construction, marine and processed industrial sectors.

In spite of the housing options available, there are irresponsible employers who continue to breach the housing requirements and compromise on foreign workers’ well-being. In the worst instances, workers have been found, housed in make-shift huts or bin centres. To ensure that foreign workers are housed in acceptable housing, MOM, together with agencies such as URA, SCDF and NEA, conducts regular inspections at locations suspected as being used for illegal foreign worker housing. These efforts are producing positive outcomes. Since 2010, almost 15,000 foreign workers have been relocated to acceptable housing. Over the same period, enforcement action was taken against more than 2,300 employers for breaching the Work Permit conditions by housing their workers in acceptable conditions.

We will keep up the enforcement efforts as we develop more foreign worker housing. At the same time, as Members know, we are also taking measures to reduce our reliance on low-skilled foreign workers over time.

Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade): Sir, for those foreign workers who are staying in the less favourable sites and in unhygienic situations, what are our plans to decant them in medium term? And secondly, Sir, can the Minister of State update us on the plans for social and recreational areas specifically for foreign workers?

BG [NS] Tan Chuan-Jin: Mr Speaker, Sir, where we do find foreign workers housed in unacceptable conditions, we do put in place measures to relocate them, which is why expediting the construction of some of these dormitories and housing options is something that we are pressing ahead with. We are speaking to the various advisers on this. Secondly, it is an important feature in the construction of these living quarters that we provide recreational and eating facilities, and so on, within those premises. Going forward, we are putting those in place to make sure that the foreign workers do have viable options. We think that is one important step in providing them a hospitable and good environment to, not only live in, but to spend their free time in as well.

Mr Christopher de Souza: Sir, I would like to ask the Minister of State to consider a proposal I had put up during the last Parliament session: for employers who do not house their foreign workers in appropriate accommodation and do not provide proper bed spaces, then going forward, that they be penalised where their quota for employing foreign workers in the years ahead is concerned. That would be a sufficient deterrent and would ensure that proper bed spaces and accommodation are given.

The parliamentary record does not indicate any reply by the Minister of State to the last suggestion.

Source: Parliamentary reports (Hansard).