Amid the raging Corona virus pandemic in Singapore, the government had initiated a campaign to invite Singaporeans for a sing-a-long session that took place in the evening of 25 April.
The campaign was reportedly organised to “show our appreciation to our front line workers, migrant workers” and for everyone complying with the Circuit Breaker rules (CB) to stay home. It is perhaps fair to say that this initiative provided a welcome respite for all who have been stressed out by the COVID-19 outbreak.
While there is nothing wrong with collective singing, it does seem hypocritical to sing for our migrant workers when they are currently isolated in their dormitories.
It also seems bizarre to be singing a song that isn’t in praise of the work of front line workers but rather, a song that arguably has connotations to glorifying the nation built by the dominant People’s Action Party (PAP), given that it is a song that is sung at national day parades.
It seems that even in an attempt to encourage our front line and migrant workers has been hijacked to become some sort of national propaganda exercise.
With reports of ever escalating cases of COVID-19 in Singapore (the brunt of which within the dormitories), potential migrant worker suicide, reports of appalling conditions within the dormitories (with international coverage of such conditions) and disturbing disclosures of migrant workers being locked in their rooms by dormitory operators as if they are criminals, it begs the question of who we are really singing for?
Are we singing for our front line and migrant workers or are we singing for ourselves to rally our own spirits? Are we singing to show appreciation to front line and migrant workers or is it a PAP / patriotic propaganda exercise being marketed as a front line and migrant worker appreciation song?
There is no harm is seeking respite and organising a singalong to raise our spirits. But please do not use our migrant workers or front line workers as an excuse. This trivialises their suffering and sacrifice. It can also be seen as a misguided form of patriotism.
In particular, the migrant workers cannot hear us singing. They can only feel their own fears as they remain locked in their dormitories over the spread of a disease that is not of their making. It is our inaction that resulted in this out of control spread in the first place. They are worried about their loss of livelihoods.
Even as our government promises to take care of their wages, the advisory issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) states that employers can reduce their salaries from $600 to $450 on top of the workers losing out on their $400 allowance as they are unable to work. This equates to them possibly losing more than 50% of their already low salary.
Even as we sing, let’s not forget that the migrant workers are bearing the brunt of a disease that our government through their inaction allowed to spread; that their already low salaries are being cut (potentially by more than half); that they are locked down in cramped dormitories; that they are afraid and isolated.
The same goes for frontline workers such as nurses, which was earlier highlighted by Daniel Yap, the former editor of the now-defunct website Middle Ground in a Facebook post.
He pointed out that registered nurses in Singapore are paid much less than their counterparts in other advanced Asian economies with a rapidly ageing population.
Posting a screenshot of a table from the article illustrating the disparity, Mr Yap said, “Our praises for our Nurses and janitors seem so false and empty when you look at this.”
Mr Yap’s post drives home the point that the society relies on the services that nurses provide and would suffer greatly without them. In that vein, while people are showing support for frontline workers, including nurses, they should also show their support in a more tangible manner by addressing the wage issue.
So by all means, let us all sing, but let’s not pretend that the singing is for the migrant workers and front-line workers.
We are singing for ourselves because we are cooped up and need a distraction. That’s fine but call a spade a spade.
On top of that, let’s not forget that our migrant workers are still suffering and need us to speak up for them. Our singing does not offer them any practical help.