by Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss
Straits Times reported that “Ground efforts” see donation of 1.3 million reusable cloth masks to our migrant workers.
After reading that ST report, it has now occurred to me that the two previous national distribution of free masks did not extend to our migrant workers.
Why did the Government issue free masks to one group of local residents (Singaporeans or non Singaporeans who have home addresses) but left out another group of local residents (migrant workers)?
In the two earlier island wide rounds of mask distribution, residents with home addresses (with no distinction made as to whether Singaporeans or non Singaporeans) were eligible to collect the free masks. As migrant workers do not have any “home addresses”, so this large group of local residents did not feature in those exercises, even as other non-Singaporeans who had home addresses were eligible to collect the free masks.
Mask-wearing is not only for the personal protection of the individual, but has now become a key national defence strategy against the virus. So much so that mask-wearing was made mandatory with effect on 14 Apr 2020. The Government even warned that non-Singaporeans caught breaching these rules might have their work passes or permanent resident status revoked.
I wonder how the migrant workers would have been expected to comply if they were not eligible to collect free masks at the two earlier national mask distributions? I suppose the Government was (is?) leaving it to the employers (or whoever) to do the needful i.e. to purchase masks for their migrant workers.
I should use the present tense “is” because according to the ST report, the masks currently being distributed to our migrant workers are not Government-issued, but donations from philanthropic resources.
Of course, better late than not that this gap is being plugged.
What is at stake is both the personal safety of the individual as well as the need to ensure that the national defence line is not breached.
Perhaps the Government should and could have played a bigger and more intervening role, and at an earlier stage, to ensure the protection of our migrant workers against the virus. This is ironic. Our Government has often been criticized for being too intrusive and overly interventionist in many other civil and private citizenry areas.
I do not think we will ever have a cogent explanation for why our Government left out our migrant workers in the national free mask distributions. This is just one of many mysteries.
Granted, hindsight is 20/20. But even as we look forward to focus on solutions, I think it is beneficial to look back to learn from lessons taught by past errors.
In this regard, it bears repeating that our migrant workers are a part of our community. It is erroneous to regard “them” as a separate community from “us”. If we hold on to that erroneous thinking, we do so at our peril.
1st Mask Distribution was 1 – 9 Feb 2020:
“The Government will give more than 5.2 million masks to over 1.3 million households. Each household will get four masks. All local households in private and public housing estates will be eligible.”
2nd Mask Distribution was 5 – 12 Apr 2020:
“The Government will be distributing one reusable mask to all residents with registered home addresses.”
“It is now mandatory to wear a mask when stepping out of the house, with some exceptions.”
“Individuals who are caught refusing to wear a mask will be fined S$300 on their first offence, while those who flout the rule a second time will be fined S$1,000. Egregious cases will be prosecuted in court.”
“Foreign residents caught breaching these rules might have their work passes or permanent resident status revoked.”
“Now that we have distributed the mask to everyone and generally people have started to adjust to the new requirements or the advisory, we are making it mandatory for all.”
“masks will be distributed to 400,000 workers living mostly in dormitories and 250,000 domestic helpers”