Authorities in Singapore must ensure that migrant workers in the construction sector are able to obtain medical attention and rest without being financially penalised by their employers, said migrant labour rights non-profit Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).
Citing the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s statement, in which it was stated that findings from contact tracing demonstrate that “transmissions at common construction worksites may have contributed to the increase in numbers”, TWC2 said: “This paints a picture of infectious workers still working at worksites.”
While such workers may have very well been asymptomatic at the time, said TWC2, it is “more likely they could have been mildly symptomatic but did not want to see a doctor or take a day off”.
MOM in its statement last Sat (18 Apr) will require all work permit holders and S Pass holders in the construction to be placed on mandatory stay-home notices (SHNs).
This is to ensure that there will be no further interactions between the workers and those outside their residential premises for two weeks, the Ministry added.
TWC2 said that it is good that the authorities “have spotted a trend” from the above risk, which the organisation had mentioned in its letter to The Straits Times’ Forum:
There is another vulnerability, not often known to the public. Some employers of foreign workers have a company policy that imposes fines that are several times a worker’s daily salary for failing to show up at work. We have also heard of employers who refuse to recognise medical leave of more than one or two days’ duration … Such measures discourage workers from seeing a doctor when ill; they also require sick workers to remain at work despite symptoms.
However, it is also important for authorities to “ensure that such practices are stamped out” even when construction works resume after the COVID-19 situation has improved to prevent “a repeat of such a situation”.
“Workers must feel free to seek medical attention and rest if a doctor so orders, without fearing penalties,” said TWC2.
The SHN imposed by MOM, which will take effect starting today, applies to all migrant workers in the construction sector on Work Permits or S Passes.
The SHN period will end on 4 May.
Dependant Pass holders of these workers are also to be placed on SHN, said MOM.
The SHN requirement, however, excludes migrant workers staying in dormitories gazetted as isolation areas under the Infectious Diseases Act or migrant worker dormitories defined in the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act 2015, as special arrangements have already been catered for them, the Ministry said.
Touching on the specific SHN requirement for construction sector workers, MOM said that the sector has “the highest number of infected cases” and “worksite transmissions have been a contributing factor”.
“The SHNs will help prevent further transmission of the virus between workers in the sector, across all housing types,” the Ministry stressed.