An episode of Talking Point aired on Channel News Asia raised many issues on the situation faced by migrant workers in Singapore.
While this episode was centred around the spread of COVID-19 within the migrant worker community, something that was said by Dr Leong Hoe Nam, Infectious Diseases Specialist from Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre hit the nail on the head.
He said that while isolating all of the migrant worker dormitories may stop the virus from spreading to the rest of Singapore, it was important to remember that they are a part of our community, not a separate and different group to be shut out.
A large part of how and why things have come to this point is because we have failed to see the migrant workers as human beings who are a part of us.
From the deeply ignorant article posted on Lianhe Zaobao, to the since deleted remarks made by former minister and current Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament (MP), Yaacob Ibrahim on Facebook (FB) to how the government initially failed to cater to the migrant worker needs at the initial outbreak of the corona virus, it is manifestly clear that they are not viewed by Singaporeans (from the government to the public) as an integral part of our society.
If anything, this disease should teach us that this mind-set of separateness is wrong and misguided.
Firstly, it is morally reprehensible to somehow see the men who have toiled to build all of our first world infrastructure getting paid a pittance as somehow less then and being treated as lesser being crammed up in conditions which would not be acceptable under existing housing regulations.
Secondly and from a practical point of view, not looking after the disease spread among our foreign workers will eventually lead back to us given how small our country is. Jeremy Lim, a professor and the co-director of global health at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said as much in an interview with TIME.
Going forward, there has to be a deep correction in how we view our migrant workers. A panelist on the episode of Talking Point mentioned above, Dipa Swaminathan, founder of Itsrainingraincoats said that migrant workers needed to be represented on any talks concerning what they need for their well being.
This is spot on for who else knows better what they need than those within the community? It is a fallacy to discuss migrant worker well being in a vacuum if they are not represented as a legitimate voice in any of those talks.
For them to become an integral part of the narrative, they need a place on the discussion table. That’s what real representation is about.