An online petition titled, ‘Protect our migrant workers from Covid-19’ — created by Kokila Annamalai, a community researcher of Massey University — calls for the government to develop a comprehensive list of measures to address the issue regarding wellbeing of migrant workers in Singapore following the new COVID-19 cluster at foreign workers’ dormitories.
The petition which is meant to deliver to Minister of Manpower (MOM) Josephine Teo, has raised the concern of the migrant workers who may expose to the high risk of COVID-19 transmission as well as their cramped and unsanitary living conditions that has been reported recently.
It was due to the recent media coverage of bad conditions of the workers’ living places after government first gazetted two foreign workers’ dormitories — the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan on Sunday and subsequently Toh Guan Dormitory on Monday due to being listed as COVID-19 clusters.
At the time of writing, the petition garnered over 4,500 signatures with the number of petition signatures continuing to climb.
Noting the overcrowded situation in the current workers’ dormitory set-ups and how workers being transported in cramped lorries, Ms Annamalai said that it is impossible to carry out safe distancing measures which have been reaffirmed by government as “the most important measure” against COVID-19 transmission.
When the environment of worker’s dormitory is reported unsanitary and very poorly-ventilated, she remarked that it is “unacceptable in regular times and calamity during a public health emergency” while urging MOM to fulfill its promise promptly on enhancing cleaning efforts at all dormitories.
During the isolation period, workers are not allowed to leave their dormitories even to get food. However, Ms Annamalai noted that there are workers did not receive their meals on time
While the workers are not allowed to leave their dormitories during the isolation period, Ms Annamalai noted that there are workers did not receive their meals on time and some employers or others have been prevented to deliver food and other items to the isolated workers.
On top of this, these communities also faced insufficient supplies of masks, sanitisers and other essential items meanwhile they are not guaranteed subsidised treatment at Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC) or polyclinics in Singapore if they are unwell, says Ms Annamalai.
Concerning that these work pass holders may struggle for livelihood, she said, “The work and visa status of workers who haven’t been allowed to return to Singapore are unclear. Will they be paid their wages? Will they still have jobs? When can they return? Conversely, there are concerns about workers who have been laid off but are unable to leave Singapore — how will they be taken care of?”
As a result of isolation, the foreign workers may also face stress and tensions or “feel akin to sitting ducks trapped in a ticking time bomb” due to the lack access of accurate information as well as “hostility” and “stigma” treatment from security personnel or dormitory staff.
Aside from the gazetted dormitories, Ms Annamalai also pointed out that there are no any measures to care and protect migrant workers who live outside of purpose-built dormitories such as those who rent shared spaces in Geylang and Little India.
A broader and more holistic response for foreign workers’ issues
In response to government’s precautions which seems focused only on two dormitories, Ms Annamalai asked for a broader and more holistic response to the related issue.
Due to the high probability of asymptomatic spreads, she suggested a “repeated and large-scale testing” to be carried out for all isolated workers and other dorms to ensure effective containment of COVID-19 based on the advice from public health experts.
So as to ensure safe distancing measure being exercise in the dormitories, she suggested government to slash down the ratios of workers to rooms and toilets drastically while improving their living spaces to be well-ventilated through the creative and feasible suggestions which have been put forward.
Instead of lorries, the workers should be transported by bus to work for safe distancing.
For workers who have developed flu-like symptoms, they are expected to receive free healthcare at PHPCs and polyclinics as well as free mental health counselling in their first language if they want it.
In addition, government need to ensure a timely, reliable and empathetic communication with all workers on their quarantine and healthcare arrangements, work or pay issues and visa status in their native languages as well as the ability of workers to stay connected with their families with wifi access within their rooms.
Ms Annamalai suggested government to set up an accessible channel of COVID-19-related issues for the workers to call in and have handled their problems in their first languages.
She added, “There should be clear assurances that complainants will be protected. These should be channels that the public can view and hold MOM to account on.”
Touching on the $100 daily quarantine allowance given to the workers, Ms Annamalai proposed to extend the allowance to all non-essential workers if they are unable to work during the circuit-breaker period.
“Workers’ jobs and wages will be protected regardless of disruptions to their ability to work caused by Covid-19 whether due to illness, quarantine, work closures, re-entry restrictions, or other reasons,” she said.
As part of safety measures, “On-site medical care should be available at all dormitories, not just the ones under lockdown,” said Ms Annamalai, noting, “This should include access to effective face masks, sanitisers, personal protective equipment at work.”
Taking on the costs of relocating workers to reduce density and of mass-testing is our moral duty
In order to ensure transparency and accountability of these measures, Ms Annamalai said the effectiveness of measures should be accessed through the observation, evaluation and report on the progress in affected areas by journalists and independent experts while monitoring by the public.
She said, “Taking on the costs of relocating workers to reduce density, and of mass-testing, is our moral duty, and they will also help prevent the costs of providing hospital and ICU care for thousands of Covid-19 infected workers.”
With the resources and capacity of Singapore to deal with the pandemic, Ms Annamalai stressed, “When we finally emerge from this crisis—as we surely will—it is vital that we are able to say, with a clear conscience, that we tried our very best to protect everyone who lived and worked in this country, and trusted us with their wellbeing.”
“Given the urgency of these matters, we hope for a response from Minister Josephine Teo and the multi-agency taskforce for COVID-19 to our stated concerns, as soon as possible,” she added.
To sign the petition, please visit this link. ‘Protect our migrant workers from Covid-19’