When is a dormitory not a dormitory?


Four Malaysians, all working as cleaners, were killed in a fire at a workers hostel in Geylang, Singapore early Saturday.

Three of them – males aged between 37 and 50 – died at the scene while the fourth male was confirmed dead on arrival at the hospital. They were believed to have suffocated.

An official from the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore identified the victims as Jubitol Rumanjing, 37, Maslan Musundo, 43, Yusoff Masrong, 49, all from Sabah, and Ramu Kotiah, 50, said to be from Perak.

“We take a very serious view of safe and secure housing for migrant workers and urge the authorities to investigate the matter throughly and where appropriate, call those responsible to account”, said Bernard Menon of the Migrant Worker’s Centre, the agency who was onsite to make provisions and assist the workers and their families.


Bernard Menon, Migrant Worker’s Centre

In March 2014, additional regulations for large foreign worker dormitories will be imposed through new legislation. This is in the form of the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill.

The Bill includes provisions for regulating through licensing of large dormitories and includes severe penalties for breach of licensing conditions.

It is good that there is now some regulation for large dormitories, but what about the smaller ones? There are no clear statistics on how many of these makeshift dormitories there are scattered around Singapore.

According to the Ministry of Manpower, everything from containers to HDBs to farms can be used for lodging of workers. Although there are provisions for the management of such quarters, the law is not clear as to what constitutes a “dormitory”.

This beg many questions: “Private residential premises” cannot be used as worker’s dormitories, in the case of Geylang, what relationship is it between the landlord and tenants? It was reported that the apartments were known as “worker’s hostels”, but what is the property original purpose for?



Four men lost their lives and another nine (including two fire fighters) were sent to Tan Tock Seng and Singapore General Hospitals for injuries.

Men living in these quarters are not known for good housekeeping, hygiene and security. There needs to be clear rules and administration to regulate and enforce health and safety.

It looks like the authorities are just starting to get their feet wet in designing laws to govern large dormitories, but I urge them not to stop there. Before more lives and property are lost, and to create decent living conditions of our foreign workers, these makeshift dorms need to undergo scrutiny and enforcement.

Employers have a duty of care to their workers and property owners have a duty of care to their occupants. The Government has a duty to hold everyone responsible. I think it is a decent request for all these parties to play their part.







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