The “calibre of the people sitting atop” in managing the hygiene and sanitary condition of foreign workers dormitories should be look into before blaming the workers who have to live in squalor, says Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).
In its article titled, “In defence of…squalor”, TWC2 brought out a photo of Sungei Tengah Lodge showing the food trashes were being mishandled and piled up at outside of the foreign workers dormitories room after they finished their meals that catered for them during the isolation period.
TWC2 then cited a statement from Ministry of Manpower (MOM), claiming that the food distribution, cleanliness and hygiene standards of Sungei Tengah Lodge will be able to “stabilise” through their experience in handling the gazetted dormitories earlier.
TWC2 said, “With the lockdown, food is delivered to their rooms in containers, and they have to eat where they sleep. Unable to leave their rooms, the corridor is the only place they can put their empty containers and other refuse. But then, no vermin-proof bins are provided. So naturally the trash piles up, now just outside their doors.”
“What’s the problem here? Poor management skills. Somebody directed that food be delivered to workers’ rooms and insisted that workers eat their meals right there without organising immediate refuse collection or bins,” TWC2 added.
Speaking on the surging media coverage of poor hygiene in foreign workers’ dormitories recently, TWC2 noted that the trash issue is not related with COVID-19 as it explained, “There is no indication that the coronavirus breeds in trash. It breeds in human bodies, which is why distancing is so critical.”
However, it also added, “Of course, it is better to live in clean places. We wouldn’t want dengue, typhoid or leptospirosis or any number of trash-related diseases to break out too. But the unthinking incantation of the trash meme with stories about Covid-19 is a red herring.”
Despite of the distraction of unsanitary conditions of workers’ dormitories on where it should be lead to, TWC2 also raised concern that it will create two “unfair associations”.
Firstly: that to some degree, the migrant workers brought Covid-19 onto themselves by poor hygiene in their quarters. Secondly: that they are inherently dirty people, which in turn dogwhistles moral aspersions. You won’t hear either of these associations verbalised explicitly; people know they cannot be said in polite company, but that doesn’t mean that (some) people don’t think these thoughts.
TWC2 stressed that a “clear-eyed understanding” of the reason on the difficulty to maintain the cleanliness in a worker dormitory is needed for all people.
“It’s always going to be hard when ten to twenty men are crammed into a room. They have luggage, standing fans, helmets and lines of laundry in the way. The density alone makes it a challenge to maintain standards.”
“Consider too their long work days. A typical construction worker has to wake up at six in the morning but doesn’t get back until 8pm or maybe even 10pm. His clothes and boots are all dusty and dirty, and he is fatigued. He has to take dinner, a shower, and maybe make a call to family, and then it’s straight to bed. There is simply no time for housekeeping.” TWC2 said.
Hence, TWC2 noted the “structural constraints” – design of spaces, density of habitation, controls over movement, work-life balance demanded of foreign workers as well as management systems and procedures play a significant part to determine whether a place is clean or dirty.
“It’s not the men. It’s the system. Before blaming the workers at the bottom of the heap, look at the calibre of the people sitting atop it,” it added.
Last Thursday (9 Apr), Sungei Tengah Lodge was the fourth migrant worker dormitory which has been gazetted as an isolation area, following an additional 11 COVID-19 cases linked to the cluster at the dormitory.
The declaration was made by Ministry of Health (MOH) follows after the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan were being isolated on 5 Apr, while the third dormitory — Toh Guan Dormitory — was announced as an isolation area the next day.
MOH has to date gazetted total of five foreign workers dormitory as isolation area including Tampines Dormitory which has been gazetted on 9 Apr.
With a number of workers’ dormitory being isolated, it was earlier reported that the quarantined workers are actually living in a bad living conditions such as poor hygiene and crowded living at dormitories.
However, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo noted that her Ministry will first focus on the ‘enormous task’ of containing the transmission of the COVID-19 virus at the dormitories before dealing with the living conditions in a dedicated way.