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New dorms with ‘better standards’ to be built for 100,000 foreign workers in coming years: Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE — Over the next few years, the Government will build new foreign worker dormitories with “better standards” to make them more resilient to pandemics. These will be able to house 100,000 workers.

Some of the new workers' dormitories will be built near residential areas, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said.

Some of the new workers' dormitories will be built near residential areas, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said.

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SINGAPORE — Over the next few years, the Government will build new foreign worker dormitories with “better standards” to make them more resilient to pandemics. These will be able to house 100,000 workers.

Some of these new dormitories will be built near residential areas, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Monday (June 1), as he urged Singaporeans not to have a “not in my backyard” mentality towards these developments.

Sketching out the schedule on the construction of new dormitories, Mr Wong said that 11 of these will be built over the next two years, with space for some 60,000 workers. More will be developed thereafter.

These include new quick-build dormitories — temporary structures that can be constructed quickly and can house about 500 to 1,000 workers per hectare, depending on site conditions. These dormitories can house around 25,000 residents in total.

It also includes unused state properties, such as former schools and vacant factories, which will be temporarily fitted out to house around 25,000 workers.

They will have amenities like minimarts, barber services, indoor recreation facilities and will have blocks well spaced out to ensure good ventilation, said the authorities.

 

Residents in these dormitories will also have ready access to medical care and support.

Once these new spaces are ready, workers will be moved there so that existing dormitories can then be upgraded.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the governmental task force tackling the Covid-19 crisis, added: “You should see this in the context of how, continually, we have been upgrading dormitory standards in Singapore.

“The dormitories being used today are already better than the dormitories in the past… We will, in the next batch of dormitory sites, achieve better standards.”

He added that Singaporeans will also have to do their part.

“In land-scarce Singapore, it's inevitable that some of these new dormitory sites will be quite near residential areas, so all of us have to do our part to reject the ‘not in my backyard' mindset,” he said.

“We have to appreciate the work the migrant workers are doing and welcome them as part of our community. This is an important part of how we can learn from this whole experience and become a more inclusive society.”

NEW DORMS TO BE LESS DENSELY POPULATED

The new dormitories will not only be less dense than the present ones, but also designed in a way that would minimise cross-infection between floors, blocks and even between dormitories, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who also co-chairs the task force, said.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Ministry of National Development (MND) in a joint press statement outlined some of the new regulations that will be piloted. They are:

  • Living spaces: From over 4.5sqm per resident, including shared facilities, to more than 6sqm per resident, not including shared facilities

  • Occupancy per room: Currently, there is no maximum number of beds allocated per room. In practice, however, 12 to 16 beds are placed in each room. Under the new regulations, each room must have 10 or fewer beds. Only single-deck beds are to be used and there must be a space of at least 1m between beds

  • Toilets: Currently, for every 15 beds there must be at least one toilet, bathroom, sink and urinal. Under the new regulations, one toilet, bathroom, sink and urinal must be allocated for every five beds

  • Sick bay and isolation facilities: Under current standards, there is at least one sick bed per 1,000 bed spaces. Additional isolation spaces can be introduced, if needed, at 19 beds per 1,000 bed spaces. Under the new rules, there must be at least 15 sick bay beds per 1,000 bed spaces. Additional isolation spaces can be introduced, if needed, at 10 beds per 1,000 residents

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at the press conference that the building of temporary dormitories in the short term will provide a good opportunity for the Government to test out new standards, before deciding on the specifications for the permanent new dormitories that will be built after that.

At the same time, dormitory residents and operators will have to instil safe living practices, she stressed.

“You can make sure that there are fewer people who share the same room or facilities like kitchens and bathrooms, but there must also be discipline in the practice of hygiene and segregation.”

The dormitories will have to be managed differently as well, Mrs Teo added, with operators helping to instil a higher degree of discipline, for example, on inter-mingling and ensuring tight isolation of infected workers if and when an outbreak happens.

MIGRANT WORKERS CLEARED OF INFECTION

In all, 40,000 migrant workers have been cleared of Covid-19, MOM said in a press statement on Monday.

Of these, about 12,000 are essential workers who were previously moved out from dormitories into Government-provided accommodation facilities, said MOM. These workers have also already returned to work.

Another 20,000 workers were transferred to the Government-provided accommodation facilities after recovering from the disease and testing negative.

The rest, some 8,000 workers, are residents of the first batch of 60 foreign worker dormitories that have been declared cleared of Covid-19.

This means that in each of these dormitories, every single resident has been cleared of the infection, said Mrs Teo during the press conference.

Of these, 57 are factory-converted dormitories and construction temporary quarters, while three are purpose-built dormitories.

MOM said another 11 purpose-built dormitories and 100 factory-converted dormitories and construction temporary quarters will be cleared of Covid-19 in the coming weeks.

This will translate to about 50,000 workers who have been cleared of the coronavirus.

MOM emphasised that even in cleared blocks or dormitories, residents, employees and dorm operators must continue to maintain a high degree of vigilance.

“As the workers resume work, they will have exposure to other co-workers who may be living elsewhere,” said MOM.

“This is why they will continue to be regularly tested to allow for early detection and swift isolation of new infections to minimise chances of clusters forming.”

APP TO INDICATE WHETHER WORKERS CAN RETURN TO WORK

In the statement, MOM said it has worked with the Defence Science and Technology Agency and the Government Technology Agency to create a new “AccessCode” feature on the SGWorkPass mobile app.

This will enable employers and dormitory operators to check the work status of their employees, said MOM.

The AccessCode will have three colour markers to indicate whether a worker has been approved to return to work.

They are:

  • Green status: The worker has met all the necessary conditions and is allowed to leave the dormitory for work

  • Grey status: The worker’s employer has not been approved to resume work, or the AccessCode does not apply

  • Red status: The worker did not meet one or more of the conditions and is not allowed to leave the dormitory for work

To check their status, workers can use the SGWorkPass app to scan the QR code on their workpasses, said MOM.

If they have a “green” status, their employer can arrange for dedicated transport and work with the dormitory and worksite operators to coordinate pick-up and drop-off times and locations.

The ministry added that dormitory operators will also have to check the workers’ status and only allow them to leave if their AccessCode is green.

Companies in the construction, marine and process sectors can only allow workers to enter work sites if their status is green, said MOM.

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Covid-19 coronavirus foreign workers dormitories

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