Singapore to pilot new migrant worker dorms with a little more space

Migrant workers at a dormitory. Photo: Manpower Ministry/Facebook
Migrant workers at a dormitory. Photo: Manpower Ministry/Facebook

Months after the COVID-19 outbreak exposed cramped and unsanitary living conditions at Singapore’s migrant worker dormitories, labor officials last night unveiled plans to build 11 new facilities offering improved standards of living.

The Manpower and National Development ministries announced that purpose-built dormitories will be built in line with new standards of living to house more than 100,000 workers. For now, those standards will be piloted in temporary housing to be built in the coming months. 

The goal is to reduce crowding by providing each resident at least 6sqm of personal space. That would be a slight increase from the 4.5sqm of space currently designated to residents, which includes shared facilities. 

At least one set of toilet facilities, including a bathroom and sink, will be designated to five beds instead of the current 15.

List of changes to migrant worker housing standards. Table: Ministry of Manpower
List of changes to migrant worker housing standards. Table: Ministry of Manpower

“In land scarce Singapore, dormitories are a practical approach to housing our migrant workers. We aim to make dormitory living and design more resilient to public health risks including pandemics, with improved living standards that are benchmarked both domestically and internationally. We will take on board lessons learnt from the current COVID pandemic, and also seek feedback from relevant stakeholders,” the press release stated. 

Singapore has reported 35,292 COVID-19 cases to date after 408 new ones were announced last night, all of which people residing in dormitories. The city-state also reported its first official migrant worker death yesterday involving a 51-year-old Chinese man who has been working in Singapore just shy of 20 years. 

The eight makeshift dormitories, along with spaces in 12 former school properties, eight vacant state properties and eight vacant factories, will be used to house around 60,000 workers when they are cleared to resume work. Some of them have already been staying in places like army camps and vacant public housing flats; however, those sites “are temporary and will need to be returned to their original uses or redeveloped soon,” the ministries’ said. 

The school properties to be used include the former Bedok North Secondary on Jalan Damai and the former Innova JC in Woodlands.

A total of 60 dormitories were cleared of the virus as of midnight, the Manpower Ministry said. This meant that the residents are workers who have either tested negative or were tested positive but have fully recovered and been discharged. 

The Health Ministry last week revised its discharge criteria for COVID-19 patients to allow those who are well and no longer infectious to go home even though they still test positive.

More dormitories are expected to be officially declared clear of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. A total of 40,000 migrant workers have been cleared of infections, according to the Manpower Ministry yesterday.

The outbreak has disproportionately affected migrant workers, with 33,027 infected since January. It’s also ongoing – all of last night’s 408 new cases were found in the workers.

The COVID-19 task force said last month it aims to put migrant workers back to work after the “circuit breaker” measures expire June 1 and plans to test all 300,000-plus migrant workers to make sure that they are free of COVID-19.

Singapore’s “circuit breaker” lockdown formally ends today. 


Other stories to check out:

20,000 workers may be discharged by June as dorm outbreaks continue
Allow migrant workers facing unemployment to change jobs, NGO says
Filthy, cramped dorms come to light as virus afflicts Singapore’s migrant workers

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