Last week, a dormitory that houses migrant workers came under fire for forcefully locking 20 workers inside their room in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 after a fellow colleague was tested positive for the virus.
Joylicious dormitory, which is located at Tuas Avenue 10, defended its decision by stating that it had “no choice” as it needed to safeguard the safety of 800 workers living in the premise.
“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.
This news was highlighted by migrant labour’s rights non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) in a Facebook page on 21 April (Tuesday).
The organisation stated that it received a “distress call” from the workers at the dorm, and noted that a Chinese worker was “taken away on 17 April with COVID-19”. Ever since then, the remaining men in the room were forced to stay inside their room as the door has been 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.
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.
At around 9pm on the very same day, 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.
MOM got to know about the incident via TWC2 post
Prior to going public about this incident on Facebook, TWC2 stated that it had raised this issue to the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) on Monday evening, but no action was taken as of 12.30pm on Tuesday, TODAY reported.
TWC2 uploaded its first post at 1.07pm on Tuesday.
MWC is a Government-Organised Non-Governmental Organisation (GONGO) that is often praised by the Government in the media, and is chaired by former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament Yeo Guat Kwang.
Mr Yeo noted that their “normal practice” was to inform the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) enforcement unit on the matter so the officers can go ahead to a perform a prompt inspection, given that the organisation was not able to access private property, TODAY said.
He added that MOM conducted an enforcement visit to the dormitory on Tuesday afternoon.
However, according to an article published by Channel News Asia (CNA), MOM said that it was notified about the incident after looking at TWC2’s Facebook post, contrary to what MWC claimed.
“MOM immediately deployed our inspectors to the site. On arrival, MOM officers found that the 20 workers were no longer confined in their room but had been relocated to a warehouse with attached toilet,” said a spokesperson.
Based on MOM’s investigations, it was revealed that on 20 April, the dormitory operator had locked the migrant workers in their room “with consent from the employer of the foreign workers”.
The employer of the workers, V Spec Engineering & Supplies, said in an earlier report 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.
Joylicious dormitory given a “stern warning”
Upon investigating the matter, MOM said on Friday (24 April) that Joylicious dormitory has been given a “stern warning” for its action of confining the workers in their room.
“The dormitory operator was advised that it is unacceptable to forcibly confine the workers to their room.”
MOM also added the employer of these workers, V Spec, will not be permitted to hire new foreign workers, pending a police investigation.
The Ministry went on to state that the workers were transferred to a warehouse the following day.
“Members of public are urged to alert MOM when they come across such incidents so that we can quickly respond to take care of the wellbeing of the workers,” said the ministry.