The number of private home owners illegally turning their properties into workers’ dormitories or renting them out for short-term stays have increased over the past three years.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said this as it confirmed that the Geylang apartment that caught fire last Friday (Apr 3) was illegally used as a workers’ dormitory. Two Bangladeshi workers died in the blaze, and three other people were injured.
URA said that there were 2,500 cases of unauthorised use of private residential properties in 2014. This was an increase from 2,100 cases in 2013 and 1,800 cases in 2012.
URA has investigated 180 cases involving unauthorised workers’ dormitories in Geylang alone since December last year.
The caretaker of the Geylang apartment that caught fire last week said that the living room is divided into seven rooms and one of its bigger rooms is further divided into two.
There are more than 30 people living in the apartment. This is about four times more than the maximum of eight residents allowed by URA. The case is being investigated by URA, along with the Manpower Ministry, Police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
The Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) said more needs to be done to prevent such tragedies.
“In the past, we normally do our outreach (by) trying to generate awareness about work rights, salary issues, working conditions and the work terms, for example. From this incident, I think we will also want to do more in terms of educating our workers, the migrant workers, to understand what they should also be aware of, about their living conditions and the dormitories they are staying at, to actually be able to identify some safety hazards and if there are any problems or any doubts, they should raise it to us,” said MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang.
“Employers should be more active and be responsible to ensure the living conditions of migrant workers are safe and conducive. They can’t just say that – as long as I have already complied with the law, and I have already provided such a provision then I don’t care,” he said.
Mr Yeo also urged the Government to let the Foreign Employment Dormitories Act cover all dormitories. “Because unfortunately, when we pass the dormitories Act, the decision is actually to only cover those dormitories with 1,000 beds and above. I think it is important for us to have one law that covers all, and we will have a mechanism to ensure that all agencies are better coordinated to address all the issues upstream.”
An earlier fire in Geylang that killed four workers in December last year is now being reviewed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers. URA and other agencies have recommended strong sentences given the severity of the offence.