As the number of COVID-19 cases grows exponentially in the country, one thing that became prominent is the crammed and unsanitary living conditions of migrant workers at the numerous dormitories in Singapore.
Noting this concern, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh took to Facebook on Sunday (19 April) to call for an urgent review on these workers’ living conditions at the dorms. Besides that, he also urged members of the public to change their mindset towards foreign workers.
“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the predicament of some foreign workers. We have a window of opportunity to review some issues thoroughly,” Mr Singh wrote.
“Fundamentally, it is not just a regulatory review of the living conditions of foreign workers that is urgent, but more importantly, a total mindset shift towards foreign workers that is in order for some of us,” he added.
Mr Singh explained that the poor living conditions of these workers at dorms that have been heavily highlighted in the media recently is, in fact, not a new matter. It has been raised by a few NGOs before, and was even discussed in Parliament before.
“Many of the issues related to some foreign dormitories which have come to the fore over the last week or so are unfortunately not new. Several NGOs had raised them over a number of years. The issue has also come up in Parliament before,” he remarked.
In fact, Mr Singh said that he spoke in Parliament in 2015 on the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill which included dorms which housed more than 1,000 workers. During the debate, WP’s chief asked the Government to “consider building and operating foreign worker dormitories to catalyst improvements in the sector” as well as to get shareholders and investors, along with dormitory operators, to be equally culpable if “the living conditions of foreign workers in dormitories be deemed unsatisfactory”.
However, Mr Singh noted that he remembered that time how Member of Parliament (MPs), including some PAP MPs, went “beyond the remit of the Bill to speak of foreign workers who reside in small factory-converted dorms/rooms and generally accommodating less than 1000 workers”.
“This was a live issue when the Bill was debated because in late 2014, a fire in a unit in Geylang that was about 1300 sq ft in size (slightly bigger than a first-generation five-room flat) – that was allegedly partitioned into 11 rooms occupied by between 88-100 individuals – caused the death of 4 workers,” he explained.
He continued, “In another case, it was reported that two small apartments in Selegie Road had more than 50 workers who “slept shoulder to shoulder, amid rotting food and soiled clothes.”
Speaking of getting the public to change their mindset on these migrant workers, WP’s chief stated that some instances have been “encouraging”. For instance, he highlighted about how some Singaporeans have gone the extra mile to sew masks for these workers and donated to them in order to ensure their well-being.
“But this advocacy and support must sustain itself after COVID-19 is defeated,” he stressed.
In reality, Mr Singh noted that the foreign workers sector is massive, with over half a million of them living in various types of accommodation.
In his post, the politician attached pictures of a local company that is doing its best to make sure that migrant workers are well taken care of.
“The pictures in this post highlight one example of a Singapore company, whose owner I am proud to call a dear friend. The company has instituted processes to ensure their workers are looked after,” he said.
However, he asserted that such a thing don’t come easily, and it requires employers and supervisors to take “a personal interest” to make sure the well-being of these migrant workers.
“They build our homes. They clean our estates. And they do a lot more we don’t know about or will not be able to bring ourselves to do nor endure.
“All foreign workers who work in Singapore deserve dignity and respect. We shouldn’t have to say this anymore.”