On Tuesday (14 April), Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) voiced concern over the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) move to revoke the work passes of 24 foreign workers for violating the safe distancing measures implemented by the Government to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The local non-governmental organisation that supports and advocates the rights of migrant workers called MOM’s decision “harsh and disproportionate”.
“Considering that these were first-time violations (in the absence of information to the contrary), HOME considers these measures to be harsh and disproportionate, and urges MOM to weigh the seriousness of the violations against the workers’ plight amidst the Covid-19 pandemic,” the organisation stated in a press release published on its website.
On 13 April, MOM revoked the permits of 24 work pass holders for breaching circuit breaker rules, and these work pass holders have been permanently barred from working in Singapore.
MOM said the work pass holders were caught drinking, eating, and gathering in groups in the area of Tuas View Square, which is a factory-turned-dormitory. It is one of such industrial or warehouse developments which has partially turned into a dormitory for workers.
MOM explained that this was done to “send a clear signal of the seriousness of the offence”.
In response to this, HOME pointed out that Singapore residents who defied the elevated safe distancing measures have only been slapped with S$300 fines or received just written advisories. On the other hand, these migrant workers received such extreme punishment.
“It is unclear to us why work pass holders are punished so much more severely. If the intention is to ‘send a clear signal of the serious of the offense’, as MOM has said in its statement, surely these standards should be applied evenly across everyone regardless of nationalist and residential status,” the organisation stressed.
HOME went on to highlight that the majority of foreign workers in the country are the sole breadwinners for their families, and they have outstanding loans which they have taken to pay for the high requirement fees to come to Singapore.
Additionally, the poor are the ones that are badly affected by the pandemic and “denying these low-wage workers all possibility of current and future employment here will intensify their suffering in this time.”
To make it worse, majority of these workers’ home countries are also not allowing them to return home at this point of time, leaving them stranded in Singapore, HOME added.
“Even when they manage to fly home, interstate and local transportation might not have resumed in countries like India where the lock down is being extended, and as most workers hail from rural parts of the country, they might have to make the staggering journey home on foot,” the organisation noted.
HOME affirmed that it understands the importance of the circuit breaker measures, and have been encouraging the workers to adhere to them.
“However, it is important that the government’s response is fair and proportionate to all who live here and have a shared social responsibility to contain this virus, it said.
It continued, “Given the chaos in workers’ lives at the moment, as well as the measures that prevent them from leaving their dormitories, it is unclear that these punishments will be communicated widely enough to act as deterrents either.”
Suggestions by HOME
Due to this, HOME suggested that communicating the measures in the workers’ native languages will be much better to get them to comply with the measures.
The organisation also explained that many workers have voiced out that communication on various matters have not reached everyone in the dorms, resulting in them feeling confused and despaired.
“Many of them are experiencing anxiety, confusion and despair as the situation in dorms escalates every day, and are not receiving timely updates about the rules, the number of cases, and the availability of medical care, amongst other things.”
To this, the organisation proposed that MOM appoints a few workers in each dorms as circuit-breaker ambassadors “who can educate and monitor their peers with regard to the enhanced measures.”
“Our experience shows that peer learning and leadership are highly effective strategies in influencing group norms,” HOME added.
If any of the workers violate the rules, then HOME wants enforcement officers to give them a chance to explain themselves. This is because there might be something that the Government might not be able to see from their point of view, and listening to their perspective will allow the authorities to think of other ways to ensure compliance.
“This is a period where we have to create shared ownership of the challenges that lie ahead of us, so that all communities feel empowered to do their part,” HOME said.
It added, “Seeing that they are being treated more harshly than everyone else, on the contrary, will only exacerbate the sense of despair and disempowerment the migrant worker community is currently feeling.”