Some migrant workers are now housed in multi-storey car parks

Two days ago on Friday I wrote about the terrible living conditions of migrant workers in a dormitory in Singapore, and the outbreak of the coronovirus in their cramped living areas leading to dormitories being gazetted as isolation areas, which means workers are now quarantined in these dormitories for fourteen days.

I included some of the action taken by the government in handling this, because I felt so relieved to read in the news that something is being done. Not just about the spread of the virus but about the welfare of the migrant workers.

I had read that one of the actions being taken is to thin out the population in the dormitories (which can be in the thousands or tens of thousands) by taking out the healthy workers and placing them in alternative residence like military camps and vacant public housing blocks.

So I was really so disappointed and saddened to read in a Yahoo News Singapore article yesterday that some of these workers have been put in multi-storey carparks, instead of actual vacant HDB (public housing) flats, as shown in the video above and in the Facebook page of the HDB:

 

Questions I was thinking of when I read the Yahoo News article as well as HDB’s Facebook post:

  • Safe distancing measures, such as no visitation to other levels…“. But the person taking the video (featured at the top of this post) was walking freely between levels. And some of the men were gathering close together. So where was the safe distancing measures?
  • What happened to those vacant housing blocks the authorities spoke of previously?
  • Why this ‘temporary housing’ at car parks? The time it takes to set up the beds and other furniture at these car parks, is the same time it would take inside flats, so why not put them directly in those vacant flats. Do we have them or not?
  • Living in the ‘open air’ like this subject them to mosquitoes. Not only is it cruel to subject them to itchy, uncomfortable mosquito bites, but why risk a dengue fever outbreak on top of the existing logistic headache of the coronovirus?
  • Do those other alternative residence other workers are being moved to, such as military camps, also feature ‘open-air’ living like this? And therefore, also subject the workers to mosquitoes especially at night when the workers are trying to sleep?

Even refugees from war-torn countries are given tents to stay in which would protect them from mosquitoes. And these men are not refugees. That they are being put to live in car parks is just so terrible to me.

They live and work in Singapore, not some poor country. Not only do we fancy ourselves a First World country, not only are we considered a rich country, but our government collects a levy of between $300 and $950 for every single worker, every month. So I just don’t understand why we can’t even give them basic, decent, humane living quarters. Oh, the shame!

I hope these workers now living at the car parks will be quickly moved to a more humane living space. Whether temporary or permanent, one with walls, windows, doors. I can’t believe one has to write that, but yes, please give these human beings a place to stay with walls, windows and doors.

 

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)