As the international media continues to cover Singapore’s fall from grace in relation to its management of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo has been quoted by the BBC as saying the following:
“There are in Southeast Asia alone about 10 million migrant workers. A fraction of them in Singapore. We’re not perfect but we do what we can….Yes, we took some safe distancing measures within the dormitories and if we were to be able to rewind the clock, one could say that these safe distancing measures needed to go much further.”
The question that remains to be answered is – Have they really done what they can? Given that the first case in a dormitory was reported in the first half of February and no action was taken – a case could be made that they have definitely not done all they can.
Anyone that does not know that our migrant workers live in very close proximity with each other is wilfully blind. Surely the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) (Teo’s domain) must have known how they live? It is also common sense that viruses transmit through proximity. Put two and two together, have the government really done all they can?
The constant stream of instructions and regulations coming hard and fast have also led some to comment that our government policies have not displayed foresight or been proactive. Rather, they have seemed knee jerked, reactive and somewhat hap hazard.
Based on the Facebook post of a migrant worker employer, it would appear that even the best efforts of a responsible employer are being hampered by the seemingly bipolar actions of the MOM.
In a heartfelt and frustrated post, Benjamin Lin cited an example of how his attempts to rehouse his workers in a bid to stop the spread of the virus were thwarted by the ever changing policies of the MOM without regard for logistical realities.
This does not appear to be a sign of a ministry that has the situation under control. Perhaps, they need to pause, observe and strategise before appearing to issue ever changing directives a mile a minute?
From a longer term perspective and perhaps to prevent future knee jerk reactions, the MOM may need to relook the entire system that governs how we treat and regard our migrant workers.
In the same article, the BBC commented that the poor living condition in worker dormitories is a systemic problem that won’t change until the entire system does.
It further stated that “the pandemic has brought to the surface the flaws in Singapore’s society and it was the failure to address these cracks that now threatens even their best laid plan,”
A long term view may go a long way to alleviate future risks from being caught off guard.