Singapore’s COVID-19 cases have soared by a single-day record of 897 cases on Friday (24 April), bringing the total number of cases to 12,075 at the time of writing. The infection had escalated within the migrant workers’ population, which accounts for almost 80% of the cases in Singapore.
The increasing trend of the COVID-19 cases has prompted the Government to extend its “circuit breaker” measures until 1 June to contain the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, more and more news reports began surfacing to expose the poor living conditions of the migrant workers in dormitories.
On Thursday (23 April), The Guardian reported that although 7,000 migrant workers have been moved out of their quarters, about 293,000 are still being housed in the dormitories. They are told to stay in the dormitories and will have their food being delivered by the authorities.
Following that, one migrant worker described being shut in the dormitory is like being imprisoned.
“It feels like we’re in a prison. It is too difficult. There is too much heat in the room,” said the migrant worker, who refused to be identified as he fears the repercussions that he may face for speaking to the media.
He noted that everyone sleeps on the floor in a room of 12 people, adding that he is afraid to use the communal toilets as they are not clean.
In the report, it was highlighted that while migrant workers continued to live in cramped spaces, some of them still have to go to construction sites where they have to spend hours traveling on the back of the crowded lorries, amid the ongoing outbreak.
“The way the workers were stacked in on the back of lorries, it was like the way goats are stacked in when they are taken to a slaughter house,” said another migrant worker, who also being kept anonymous in the report, and only being addressed as B.
He shared with The Guardian that it has been a decade since he came to Singapore, that only now he was able to share a room with just 12 people, which he noted is better than his previous room where there is no natural light.
B opined that the Government should impose stricter control on migrant worker dormitories especially the number of workers per room and per bathroom facilities.
“It is not like Singapore cannot regulate it,” B remarked, adding that migrant workers only want their basic labour rights.
“This entire city is built on our labour and on our hard work,” he said. “That tells you what you need to be told about the culture that we bring, and how our culture makes up the clean and sparkling facade of the city.”
Meanwhile, a local activist who supports migrant workers, Kokila Annamalai worries that the infections within the dormitories could spark xenophobia and racism as she noticed the negative comments on social media and news reports.
“On top of the view that ‘it’s their fault for not being clean and for their eating habits’ and things like that, there is also this almost worse mindset of ‘they’re driving our numbers up and it makes us look bad on the world stage, and they should go home’,” Ms Annamalai said.
One campaigner, Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, said that although Singapore’s Government has condemned such negative comments, it has not been helpful as they also urged migrant workers to “be responsible” and take precautions at all times.
The Guardian cited a research study conducted by a professor at Massey University in New Zealand, Mohan Dutta, that surveyed about 100 migrant workers. He claimed that such guidance – wear face masks and practice safe distancing – is often impractical.
According to the study, the majority of the workers said that they are unable to maintain safe distancing at all times, while more than half of the workers said their rooms are not clean.
“Participants told me that even up until Monday they don’t have access to soap and adequate cleaning supplies,” Mr Mohan said.
He added, “Substantive changes are needed in how Singapore looks at migrant workers, what rights migrant workers have, and how they are able to advocate for their own health and wellbeing.”
21 migrant workers allegedly locked inside their room after colleague tested positive for COVID-19
Recently on 21 April, migrant labour’s rights non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) highlighted on its official Facebook page that 21 migrant workers staying at Joylicious dormitory were allegedly locked inside of their own room after a fellow colleague was tested positive for the deadly COVID-19.
The dorm is believed to be located at Tuas Avenue 10 and is managed by Joylicious Management Pte Ltd, which is not part of the licensed dormitory operators listed by the Ministry of Manpower, according to TWC2.
“Workers wanting to go to toilet/shower are asked to call security guards who will come to unlock the door, but the guards can take up to 30 minutes to show up,” said TWC2, indicating the incident as an “unacceptable and dangerous” way to try and curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Following the incident, a manager of the dorm said on 22 April that he had “no choice” but to take such a drastic measure for the safety of some 800 workers living in the premise.
MOM then said on Friday (24 April) that Joylicious Management has been given a “stern warning” as a result of their action and that the employer of the confined workers will not be allowed to hire new foreign workers, pending a police investigation.