On Monday (6 April), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released a statement which highlights the efforts the ministry has made in ensuring the needs and well-being of migrant workers in the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory are being well taken care of.
The two dormitories were gazetted by the Ministry of Health (MOH) the previous day as isolation areas following a spike in COVID-19 cases among migrant workers housed in those dorms.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told the media that the decision to gazette the dormitories was part of two separate strategies for tackling local transmission, each for dormitories and the community at large.
However, MOM’s statement doesn’t tally with reports coming from residents themselves who, after just one day of isolation, already reported overcrowding and pest infestation.
MOM shows photos of clean dorms, but where are the people?
MOM said in it statement, “MOM officers have also been working round-the-clock with the two dormitory operators and partners to prioritise the well-being of workers who remain healthy,” adding that this includes ensuring a timely supply of food and increasing hygiene management now that workers have to stay in the dorms all day.
Accompanying the press release are photos take at both dormitories, showing empty and clean common areas and kitchen in the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol. Now, the dormitory look clean and neat in the photos, but where are the 13,000 workers?
There were also some photos showing workers at Westlite queuing to collect food, while keeping a one meter distance from each other while in line. However, we note that there are only 6,000 workers living at Westlite compared to the 13,000 in S11. The same question remains, though: Where are all the workers? Are they cramped together in their rooms?
As we can see from a series of videos circulating social media, many workers in the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol are standing in close proximity to one another and queuing very closely to each other, not adhering to the recommended minimum one-meter separation between individuals.
The video also illustrates the cramped spaces in the dormitory, which houses 13,000 workers, which makes social distancing difficult to implement.
Food supply not as it seems either
In terms of food supply, MOM noted that workers won’t be able to cook their own meals in the common kitchens any longer, “to minimise the risk of unknown transmissions”. Instead, a professional caterer has been engaged to three proper meals a day with caterers continuously adjusting the menu to cater to dietary preferences of the workers, said the ministry.
Acknowledging “teething problems” with the portions, suitably and distribution of the food, MOM explained that the issues have been “progressively resolved”.
The ministry also included a photograph of the meals catered to the workers at Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory, showing a sizeable portion of rice with curry and two side dishes.
However, workers refute this as well. As you can see from the image below, the food package on the right is what the workers at the dormitory said they received, compared to the food on the right which MOM says they are handing out.
The food package pictures on the left shared by workers at the dormitory is an early photo, far different from the photo shared by MOM later. Was this just a PR move by the MOM?
Overflowing rubbish bins despite MOM’s “intensified” cleaning
As for cleaning, MOM notes that this has been “intensified”, with operators of both dormitories ramping up cleaning routines within the premise to cope with the increased usage of washroom facilities and higher volumes of trash being generated.
“The operators have deployed more cleaners to maintain the cleanliness of the general areas as well as washroom facilities,” noted MOM.
The ministry also said that it is working with operators to encourage the workers to play their part in maintaining cleanliness of common area.
“The operators will also ensure that premises such as the rooms and common areas are disinfected, and other sanitation such as clearance of trash are done more regularly.”
Again, this is in contrast to what workers living in the S11 Dormitory Punggol disclosed to The Straits Times. They said that they were living in unsanitary and crowded areas, with kitchens infested with cockroaches and overflowing toilets.
As you can see from the image below, rubbish bins in the dormitories are also flooded with garbage and waste.
TOC understands that cleaning fees have to be paid to the dormitory. It is unclear, however, as to whether the employer or workers will pay for the said fees.
In its statement, MOM said that it will continue to monitor conditions at the dormitories closely and intervene where necessary to ensure that the higher standards are upheld. It also added that its officers will also take action based on feedback from the migrant workers who live there.