There is pent-up demand for workers’ accommodation in Malaysia following a new law that calls for employers to provide employees housing with better living conditions for all sectors.
The Workers’ Minimum Standard of Housing and Amenities (Amendment) Bill 2019, which aims to ensure workers in all sectors of employment enjoy better housing and accommodation, basic amenities, better health and safety standards, was passed in Parliament in July.
Centurion Corp Ltd executive director and chief operating officer of accommodation business, Kelvin Teo, views the amendment as timely and positive, signalling the growing awareness of the need to improve and protect the welfare of workers, foreign and migrant workers included.
“More often than not foreign and migrant workers are housed in deplorable makeshift dorms and some are accommodated in buildings that are still under construction. We have been working with governments, regulators, businesses and local communities to bring in a whole new proposition to the community at large by developing purpose-built workers’ accommodation (PBWA) or centralised accommodations for employers to accommodate workers,” he said.
Teo said PBWA is becoming a norm in well-planned and world-class cities.
“Although this concept is relatively new in Malaysia, we foresee demand for this form of property development and management growing in the coming years, supported by regulatory measures.”
Centurion owns and manages quality PBWAs in Singapore and Malaysia, and student accommodation assets in Singapore, Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.
As of June 30 2019, the group’s portfolio of accommodation assets included 31 operational properties with some 63,052 beds.
With projects currently under development and undergoing asset enhancement works, the portfolio is expected to grow to about 68,556 beds by its next financial year.
Teo said Centurion is beefing up its operations in Malaysia and Singapore.
The company owns and operates 11 worker accommodation assets with a total of 56,800 beds in Singapore and Malaysia under the “Westlite Accommodation” brandname.
Westlite is a self-contained permanent structure that provides spacious apartments with en-suite or shared bathrooms and cooking facilities. It also comes with comprehensive amenities like supermarket, food court, sick bay, gymnasium, indoor and facilities.
All accommodations have 24/7 onsite security with features, such as biometric face recognition and personal key card access.
Centurion came to Malaysia in 2012 and owns and operates seven workers’ accommodation assets with a total of 30,700 beds in Johor and Penang.
Teo said the average occupancy rate for all the seven assets in Malaysia is about 90 per cent.
The latest accommodation, which was completed in January this year, is located in Bukit Minyak, Penang, with an investment value of RM65 million. The asset, which began operation in April, has 6,600 beds.
By the middle of next year, the company will add another 3,600 beds in Johor.
Centurion workers’ accommodation country head in Malaysia, Alfred Lee, said the company would also establish a new asset with 6,100 beds in Penang.
“The construction works will take about 18 to 24 months. It is currently pending approval from the authorities,” said he said during a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur recently.
The company’s current asset value in Malaysia is about RM280 million.
According to Lee, Centurion’s next target is the industrial sector in Selangor.
Since 2011, Westlite has been serving multinational companies, small and medium enterprises, as well as human resource agents in Malaysia with PBWA.
Apart from accommodation, Westlite also provides operational services, emergency response, counselling services and social activities.
Teo said Westlite’s satisfaction lies in putting workers’ well-being first and in adopting a holistic approach to providing quality community living for residents at the company’s PBWAs.
“The current PBWAs are built in industrial hubs, away from residential areas. They are designed to the highest standard of development,” he said, adding that the accommodation also meets international ethical and compliance requirements, which will enable Malaysia to compete in the international economic environment.
“Meeting the needs of business owners remains the core of Westlite’s objectives, and this is seen in terms of logistics cost-savings when workers are settled centrally in one purpose-built location that offers economies of scale as opposed to multiple residential apartments,” he said.
Teo added that housing foreign workers in self-contained PBWA, where their daily needs are provided for within the centralised compound, also reduces strain or inappropriate use of low-cost housing and other facilities, which are designed primarily for local residents and communities.