We treat our migrant workers shabbily, and we need to do much better.

On Monday 6th April, Singapore’s newspaper The Straits Times published an article: Coronavirus: Workers describe crowded, cramped living conditions at dormitory gazetted as isolation area. Among other things, it mentioned:

  • workers saying they do not have masks
  • that they are living in unsanitary and crowded conditions
  • their rooms are infested with cockroaches
  • their toilets overflowing with urine
  • having to queue for food with no social distancing measures to keep them apart.
  • trash not disposed of, and rubbish bins placed near their rooms

Such terrible living conditions for our migrant workers is not a new concern here in Singapore. It has been around for many years, and yet it continues. We have known for years of such horrible living conditions, and yet we are too selfish to do anything concrete about it. In the meantime, we continue to benefit enormously from having these foreign workers as cheap labour for our country.

As long as the government do not force the dormitory operators and the construction companies (the industry most of these workers work in) to improve their basic living condition to something more humane, this story will never end. We are all to blame for quietly allowing this to happen in Singapore, our so-called First World country, and for such a long time too. It’s truly shameful.

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Writer Andrew Loh remarked in a Facebook post that:

Well, what else is new? Same old problems for 20 years – crowded dorms, bad and inadequate facilities, poor hygiene, poorly paid workers, etc.

These problems have been raised to death.

 

 

Retired diplomat and Singapore’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Professor Tommy Koh, also pointed out on his Facebook page that, among the ‘disgraceful‘ ways these workers are treated, the employers of these workers transport them in flat bed trucks with no seats. This is really like as if they are cattle, not human beings. And this has been going on for many years.

 

In a Coconuts Singapore article published on Tuesday 7th April titled: Filthy, cramped dorms come to light as virus afflicts Singapore’s migrant workers, I came across this scene from Facebook user Roy Prakash:

 

Just look at the overcrowding resulting in how they are forced to be cramped together. If it’s like that with the police officers stationed there now, I can’t imagine what kind of horrific chaos it was like before the officers got there. Is it any wonder if the virus spread like wildfire in there.

Another Facebook user Jason See shows some scenes from an S11 Dormitary:

And more here:

The plight of the workers came to light again because of Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Sunday 5th April, that two dormitories housing migrant workers have been marked as isolation areas because of the growing number of transmissions of the virus among the workers. This means these workers living in those dormitories have to be quarantined in their rooms for 14 days.

Some of the action taken by the government

I read in a Yahoo News Singapore article published yesterday that the government is intervening in this “very major and urgent issue” by:

  • working together with dormitory operators to ensure effective management of basic issues like cleanliness, hygiene and food delivery.
  • putting in active screening and testing of workers. Medical posts on-site at the dormitories, first the critical sites, then scaled up to cater to some 200,000 workers spread across all 43 dormitories in the country.
  • Workers who are healthy are to be separated from infected or suspected infected, and placed at activated sites such as
    • Singapore Armed Forces military camps,
    • Changi Exhibition Centre,
    • ‘floating hotels’ (used for offshore accomodation), and
    • vacant public housing blocks in Tanjong Pagar and Jurong.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) published press releases on their website on Wednesday 8th April and Thursday 9th April. Some of the points detailed included:

  • Dormitory operators are stepping up on waste management and sanitation regimes.
  • They have been working with multiple caterers to ensure meals are distributed on time.
  • Initial logistical constraints have been progressively resolved, resulting in improved meal distributions. They have also roped in more manpower for cooking meals and engaged more drivers and vehicles for delivery.

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Related Links:

  • Raising standards at worker dormitories is in everyone’s interests: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo (Channel News Asia Youtube video below, 6th April 2020)

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