On Tuesday (21 April), migrant labour’s rights non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) highlighted a rather disturbing incident on its Facebook page where it stated that 21 migrant workers were locked inside their room after a fellow colleague was tested positive for COVID-19.
The organisation said that the incident happened at Joylicious dormitory located at 11 Tuas Avenue 10. This dorm is managed by Joylicious Management Pte Ltd, which is not part of the licensed dormitory operators listed by the Ministry of Manpower.
TWC2 stated that a Chinese worker was “taken away on 17 April with COVID-19” and ever since then, the remaining 21 workers have been forced to stay inside their room as the door is locked from the outside.
It also added that if any one of the migrant workers want to use the toilet or need to shower, they will have to ask the security guard to open the door for them. Unfortunately, the guards could some time take up to 30 minutes to respond.
However, a manager of the dorm said that he had “no choice” but to take such a drastic measure for the safety of some 800 workers living in the premise, TODAY reported.
“We have no choice but to play it safe. I have 800 workers to take care of here, and they have 800 plus families to answer to. (We can’t allow) one black sheep to cause this whole thing (to spin out of control),” said the manager, who only wants to be known as Mr Thng.
He explained that the reason these workers were locked inside the room was because the dormitory’s management needed time to ready a new place on another floor to accommodate these migrant workers. The new space must come with an attached toilet, unlike the previous one, Mr Thng added.
He also said that there were only 20 men locked inside the room, not 21 workers as claimed by TWC2. Additionally, he said these men were kept inside the room “less than 24 hours”.
Just a few hours after TWC2’s first post, the organisation released a follow-up post stating that the workers were moved to another bigger room equipped with attached bathroom, one floor below. However, the door is still locked and their boss is now looking for the person who leaked the information to the public.
The organisation attached a picture of the new room in the post and it shows that the new room’s door has latch to lock it.
“But the door is still locked. And they report that the boss is now calling individual workers in the group to find out who leaked the information,” it said.
It added, “Punishment and retribution is likely to follow. We need the media and govt authorities to protect them. Attached photo is the outside of the new room’s door. It has a latch!”
At around 9pm, TWC2 uploaded another post noting that the police came and the door is finally opened for the workers.
“The police came and the door was opened. Now, the door is left open and they get fresh air. Hope it stays that way,” the organisation wrote.
Commenting on the dormitory’s actions of locking up the workers in a room, the employer of the migrant worker, V Spec Engineering & Supplies, said that logically these men should not move freely at the dormitory given that they were in close contact with the worker who was infected with COVID-19.
Reena Wong, design director of V Spec said to TODAY: “Don’t tell me your colleague got virus, you still go and walk around? Cannot be what! For the sake of every man at the dorm, we as an employer told them not to go around. For goodness’ sake, it is only temporary.”
“Why don’t you behave properly? What are you trying to do? You are trying to spread (the coronavirus) to others, is it?… They are adults behaving like children,” she said in response to two men in the group who were causing problem by requesting to use the bathroom every half hour.
“We are still waiting for the call. In the meantime, to ensure that they don’t spread to others, I asked my men to stay put,” she noted. “It is for everybody’s sake.”
Netizens furious over the incident
Upon reading about this incident, many netizens slammed the dorm management for locking up the migrant workers in the room. They added that the person in charge of making such decision should be arrested and punished for treating the workers so badly.
Some said that the action to lock the migrant workers in their room is “inhumane treatment”, “humanity abuse” as well as slavery as these men were kept in their room against their will. As such, they noted that this news should gain more publicity so that such a thing will not happen again.
Additionally, others urged the news must be brought up to the police and the Ministry of Manpower so action can be taken.
Facebook user Nelson Ong pointed out that it’s a criminal offence to hold a person in custody unlawfully. He also said that after one of the workers have been tested positive for COVID-19, the next step should be to let the Ministry of Health to handle the case and test the remaining workers who were in close contact with the affected individual.
“Thirdly, locking a premise without alternate escaping route when there are people inside is against the Fire Safety regulation. Should report to SCDF on this too,” he wrote.