Manpower Minister Josephine Teo concurred that raising the standards in foreign worker dormitories is the right thing to do, but the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) authorities will first focus on the ‘enormous task’ of containing the transmission of the COVID-19 virus at the dormitories.
Mrs Teo’s statement came after the news reports on the unsanitary and crowded living conditions in the two dormitories – S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan – where kitchens are infested with cockroaches, toilets are overflowing, and rubbish bins are flooded with garbage.
Both dormitories were gazetted as isolation areas on 5 April following a spike in COVID-19 cases among migrant workers housed in the said dorms.
The Minister took to Facebook on 6 April, noting that the dormitories are licensed under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act which required operators to comply with a set of licence conditions including maintaining standards for cleanliness, water supply, sanitation, and hygiene of premises.
“Singapore Ministry of Manpower officers conduct regular inspections at dormitories to ensure that licence conditions are adhered to, and do not hesitate to take strong enforcement actions against operators who provide poor accommodation to their resident workers,” Mrs Teo remarked.
Noting that everyone has different ideas about the right standards of the dormitories, Mrs Teo listed out the facilities that should be available at purpose-built dorms – proper sleeping rooms with beds; dedicated toilet and shower facilities; recreational spaces with TV, newspapers etc; supermarkets or minimarts; and dedicated sick bays.
According to Mrs Teo, before such dormitories were built, many foreign workers had to live in poor and unhygienic conditions. Employers would often house their workers at the sites where they worked just to save costs, which were unregulated.
Thus the MOM’s decision to build the current dormitories.
“We now have 43 of such dormitories in Singapore. Consider the fact that we’re housing more than 200,000 workers in these dorms. It’s like building up the whole of Ang Mo Kio GRC or Pasir Ris – Punggol,” Mrs Teo noted.
She claimed that each time they attempt to raise standards of the dormitories, employers yelp as these are added costs that they must eventually pass on.
“I hope the COVID-19 episode demonstrates to the employers and wider public that raising standards at worker dormitories is not only the right thing to do, but also in our own interests. We should be willing to accept the higher costs that come with higher standards,” Mrs Teo stated.
She further concurred that raising the standards of the dormitories is an important issue to address, and assured that the MOM is keen to tackle the issue similar to how it initiated the WorkRight, Workfare, and Workcare to support low-wage workers.
Nevertheless, Mrs Teo urged Singaporeans to let her team focus on managing the ‘enormous task’ of containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus at the dormitories, before dealing with the living conditions in a dedicated way.
“We are talking about 200,000 workers spread out in 43 dorms. My team is already working round-the-clock. They are on the frontlines dealing with sometimes very tense conditions. Please do not demoralise them with finger-pointing. They deserve better,” she noted.
Mrs Teo further asserted, “Let us cross this important hurdle during this “circuit breaker”, and then we can deal with this issue in a dedicated way. You have my word.”
Prof Tommy Koh chastise the Government for treating foreign workers like “Third World”
Previously on 6 April, Professor and international diplomat, Tommy Koh Thong, chastised the Singapore government over the unfair and “disgraceful” treatment towards the foreign workers after a COVID-19 infection cluster emerged among the migrant workers recently.
“The way Singapore treats its foreign workers is not First World but Third World,” said Prof Koh, who is also a professor of law and chairman of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore.
He noted that the worker’s dormitories are a “time bomb waiting to be explode”, adding that 12 workers cramped in a dormitory room which is “packed likes sardines” and an unclean environment led to the emergence of a COVID-19 cluster.
“I feel angry when I see foreign workers sitting on the ground eating their lunch. I see exhausted foreign workers stretched out on the ground to rest,” Prof Koh remarked.
“Singapore should treat this as a wake up call to treat our indispensable foreign workers like a First World country should and not in the disgraceful way in which they are treated now,” he added.