The ongoing shortage of bed spaces for migrant workers here is likely to crimp further growth in foreign manpower numbers – at least for the next two years.
While a range of measures have added close to 17,000 new dormitory beds since December 2022, this is still outstripped by the surge in demand caused by new worker arrivals since the economy reopened in January 2022, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Responding to The Straits Times’ queries about the ongoing supply crunch, MOM warned that demand for migrant worker housing here cannot continue to increase unabated.
The ministry reiterated its earlier calls for employers to reduce their reliance on foreign labour by raising productivity, or to consider building their own worker housing, such as construction temporary quarters (CTQs), to house their workers.
CTQs refer to temporary worker housing located within a construction site or parts of buildings still under construction.
“Employers should secure housing for their workers before arrival in Singapore and take into account their ability to house new workers before they take on more projects,” said MOM.
The strong demand for dorm beds has partly been due to employers hiring more foreign workers as Singapore’s economy recovered from the impact of Covid-19, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said in a written parliamentary reply to Yio Chu Kang MP Yip Hon Weng earlier in July.
As at May 2023, there were about 434,000 foreign work permit holders in the construction, marine and process sectors here.
This was 18 per cent more than in 2019, before Covid-19 struck, and 35 per cent higher than in January 2022.
In short, the Republic added 112,000 workers to just these sectors in the past 18 months.
Coupled with increasing operating costs, the surge in demand caused median monthly rent for commercial dorm beds to shoot up from $280 per worker in the first quarter of 2021 – about the same rate as before Covid-19 – to $420 per worker in the first quarter of 2023, Dr Tan said.
Rental rates have continued to soar, employers said, with some dorm beds now costing upwards of $600 per month.
Asked about the rising rents, MOM said the authorities are monitoring the supply and prices of dorm beds, and will continue to work with the industry to make more beds available.
For instance, since February 2023, employers operating factory-converted dorms (FCDs) have been allowed to rent out their spare beds to other companies.
Dorms with excess space can also retrofit their premises to add extra beds as long as they keep to regulatory standards, while some facilities previously used for quarantine and isolation have been converted to commercial beds for rent.
For new projects, the Government has planned for contractors to build more CTQs at their worksites to further ease the pressure on bed demand and prices.