Despite the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that it has stepped up efforts to ensure the well-being of migrant workers at the dormitories, the issue of migrant workers getting the same “poor quality” of food every day is still being highlighted on social media and news reports recently.
The reports, which have garnered the attention from many netizens, have prompted a local academic, Stephanie Chok to voice out on Facebook (27 April) about the migrant workers being forced to consume food that was “barely edible” and to explain the reason why migrant workers had to rely on food caterers.
In the post, Dr Chok remarked that she has written the newsletter to a migrant worker organisation in 2014.
“Dhal so watery-thin, sunlight streams through as if it were a pale, stained-glass window. Chicken with flesh still bloodied. Fish with scales intact. Roti prata so hard it is like ‘chewing on cow skin’. Vegetables unwashed, so the crunch is from sandy residue. Unwanted guests in the food — pulp from wet paper, cockroaches, worms, and other unidentified inhabitants,” she described.
According to Dr Chok, migrant workers receive three meals a day that cost about S$120 to S$130 per month. However, most of the food was “barely edible” as breakfast and lunch were delivered to the dormitories at around 7am, while the workers will eat lunch around noon when the food already smells rancid.
“One worker estimates that at least 20 days a month, he has to buy ‘outside’ food on top of paying for catered food that he ends up throwing away. In total, the men can spend up to S$250–300 a month on food,” she wrote.
She was told by the workers that they had no choice but to rely on a food caterer, due to their factory-converted dormitory’s rule that prohibits cooking activity and because paying for food catering would be a more economically feasible option than eating outside.
“Moreover, cooked food is not always available at far-flung work sites,” she said.
Catered food, however, is not only unhygienic but also tastes bad, nutritionally poor and also inadequate, said Dr Chok.
“Working in the construction and marine sectors, the men say their health is suffering as a result of eating such poor quality food over an extended period of time: ‘We walk around as if we are drugged,’ says one,” Dr Chok noted.
The catering menu, which emphasised lentils and meat, have been remained unchanged for years. Following that, Dr Chok highlighted that there was a dire lack of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as the insufficient portion of food.
“In November 2014, the Singapore government announced a freeze on temporary dormitories in industrial estates. The aim is to slowly move more migrant workers into so-called purpose-built dormitories, which provide ‘proper facilities’ for workers,” Dr Chok asserted.
“Over the next two years, nine such dorms will be built. In the meantime, according to The Straits Times, about 700 temporary dorms house around 100,000 migrant workers,” she added.
On that note, Dr Chok highlighted the fact that migrant workers still have to rely on food caterers as cooking is still barred in the temporary dormitories and migrant workers who do not comply with the rule will be fined S$500.
She then cited an anecdote from a migrant worker: “One of our brothers opened the packet of food. He thought there was prawn inside as he saw two tentacles sticking out of the packet. After some time when we saw him eating it we asked him ‘what are you eating, brother?’ He said prawn and we told him we did not get prawn in the lunch box. We asked him where did he get it from and took it out of his mouth. It was a cockroach.”
Netizens slammed the government’s treatment towards migrant workers, some suggested food caterers should be fined for serving unhygienic food
Meanwhile, many netizens commented on Dr Chok’s Facebook post and slammed the treatment towards the migrant workers.
Some netizens even called it an “ill-treatment” towards the migrant workers.
Others pointed out that the food caterers should be fined for serving such unhygienic food to the migrant workers.