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In a first, dormitory operator fined S$300k for overcrowding workers

SINGAPORE — A dorm operator who crammed foreign workers into living quarters “way above” capacity, such that the overcrowdedness led to unsanitary living conditions, has been fined S$300,000, in the first court conviction for a dorm operator for such an offence.

SINGAPORE — A dorm operator who crammed foreign workers into living quarters “way above” capacity, such that the overcrowdedness led to unsanitary living conditions, has been fined S$300,000, in the first court conviction for a dorm operator for such an offence.

KT Mesdorm had housed 5,042 foreign workers from three companies at Blue Stars Dormitory at Kian Teck Lane near Boon Lay, even though the capacity was 4,500.

As a result, infrastructure and amenities in the dormitory was “over-taxed, resulting in overcrowded, unsanitary and unhygienic living conditions”, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a press release on Wednesday (June 1). An inspection of the dorm on July 30 last year uncovered cramped rooms, filthy garbage disposal areas, and a kitchen crawling with cockroaches.

“The health and well-being of the workers residing in the dormitory were severely compromised,” the ministry added.

Thirty charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) were pressed against KT Mesdorm for intentionally aiding three companies to breach a work pass condition. These companies with tenancy agreements with the dorm operator were not aware that Blue Stars Dormitory had exceeded its approved occupancy limit.

KT Mesdorm pleaded guilty and was convicted on Tuesday. It could have been fined up to S$10,000 and/or jailed for up to 12 months for each count.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, employers are required to provide accommodation that complies with the various statutory requirements for foreign workers. Dormitory operators who provide unapproved accommodation and help employers breach the regulations are liable for EFMA charges.

Commenting on the case, Ms Jeanette Har, who is director of the Well-Being Department in MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division, said KT Mesdorm had committed a serious breach “as overcrowding compromises fire safety and conditions of living”.

Workers living in Blue Stars Dormitory interviewed yesterday said the situation has improved vastly.

“Before, it was very dirty but with the new rules and regulations, it is now okay,” said Mr Vassur, 26, an Indian construction worker who has lived in the dormitory for one and a half years.

There used to be too many workers in one unit, said a Filipino oil refinery worker who has lived in the dormitory for eight years. Each unit is 65sqm with a living area, bedroom, kitchen and toilet. Workers had to keep their plates and cutlery by their bed because there was no space in the kitchen, which led to cockroaches breeding, but there is now more space, he added.

Littering used to be a problem, with some not throwing their cooking refuse properly as well, said Mr Suman, 36, a marine worker from Bangladesh, who has lived in the dormitory for seven years. “Everyone did not take care (of the place) and it becomes dirty,” he said.

A KT Mesdorm spokesperson said there are currently about 4,400 workers living in the dormitory. Mr Raymond Mak, the property manager of the dormitory, said there are 395 units in total and each houses up to 12.

To rectify the lapses, Mr Mak said the company worked with tenants and employers to ensure they complied with hygiene practices, on top of installing another 120 cameras to deter littering.

The dormitory also now inspects units for hygiene every three months, compared with every six months previously. Residents are responsible for cleanliness inside their units, while cleaners clean common areas every day, he said.

The dormitory also started monthly pest control fumigation in December, said Mr Mak.

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