“The government is looking to tighten the rules governing factory-converted dormitories to ensure acceptable living conditions for these workers” (Government Eyeing Better Standards at Factory-Converted Dorms, Kenneth Cheng).
That the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) has found unpleasant living conditions in factory-converted dormitories, “such as unhygienic quarters and inadequate laundry facilities” (TODAY, Aug. 2), is a cause for concern. That officers of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had also found that some operators “had ‘big’ gaps to fix in meeting even the current standards” is an even greater cause for concern, because questions can be raised over whether the government has been doing enough. Furthermore, it is also not clear whether the recommendations mooted by the MWC are consistent with the findings of the MOM, after visits to 90 per cent of the factory-converted dormitories in Singapore.
For instance, Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck said that enforcement action has since been taken against errant operators – some of whom have taken corrective action – in addition to oft-cited steps on education and keener self-regulation. Yet the minister did not elaborate if there have been recalcitrant operators, and the punishments or penalties which followed. Absent from Mr. Teo’s answers were also details of the dormitories which are guilty of these transgressions. And in this vein, how different will the tighter conditions or government management be? How exactly will the government subsequently address the housing lapses or failures flagged by the MWC?
The argument that “the economic climate and cost pressures on operators could result in shortfalls at these facilities” is not as convincing, because: first, that standards in purpose-built or institutional dormitories are already much higher, and based on visits by MOM officers most operators of factory-converted dormitories appear to have no issues adhering to guidelines; second, that both operators and employers of migrant workers have an obligation, as an interviewed company said, to not “compromise the safety and welfare” of its workers; as well as third – and as a consequence – that operators and employers should factor these considerations into their costings. For if they cannot afford to even provide these basic standards of living, then the companies should not be allowed to employ these workers in the first place. And for their labour, this is perhaps the least companies can also do for their workers.