In a Q&A session of the Workers’ Party (WP) Youth Wing’s webinar on Saturday (26 April), former managing partner at Cavenagh Law and global partner of Clifford Chance, Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh pointed out the need to allocate a fund to support migrant workers whose families are impacted due to the faults of Singapore, given if there is a substantial loss of life in the migrant workers’ population.
On Saturday, WP Youth Wing organised a Livestream webinar on Facebook featuring panelists: public health expert Dr Jeremy Lim, infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam, Mr Singh, and economist Yeoh Lam Keong.
During the webinar’s Q&A session, the panelists were asked about the issue of COVID-19 infection clusters within the migrant worker dormitories in Singapore.
25 dormitories have been gazetted as isolation areas with 12,694 migrant workers infected with the virus so far.
In response, Mr Singh indicated that it is critical to ensure that the migrant workers are not impacted in the financial aspect as they are among the most vulnerable in society. He also praised Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks which reassured that the government will look after the migrant workers and make sure their salary is paid.
“Something we need to look at which is if there is a substantial loss of life in that population, we need to think of a fund to support workers’ whose family are impacted through the faults of our own,” Mr Singh added.
He continued, “To me, one of the bigger questions about the whole foreign worker dormitories issue is, to what extent did we dropped the ball?”
Mr Singh then voiced out three areas pertained to the migrant worker dormitories issue which he believes should have had more details to be justified.
For the first area, Mr Singh noted that dormitories’ operators are required to put up quarantine plans as part of their licensing conditions. Thus, he questioned whether the operators obliged to that requirement.
“Were those plans assessed? Did we assess those plans correctly? Were they up to scratch? And if not why were the licenses granted in the first place?” he asked.
Secondly, Mr Singh pointed out about whether there was ever a commissioner of migrant worker dormitories being appointed to ensure the dormitories’ operators complied with the requirements.
“If not, why not? To what extent was our response hampered because this was not done?” Mr Singh asserted.
The third one was about the government’s emergency plans for the migrant workers’ populations.
“Before the foreign worker dorm numbers spike, what were our emergency or quarantine plans for that group? We cannot say that this was a problem that became apparent only at the benefit of hindsight,” he noted. “What were the plans? Was there a plan to aggressively test and separate them early? If not, why not? Was it a resource constraint? What was the resource constraint?”
Following that, Mr Singh opined that the country will come out stronger if the answers to all of the three highlighted areas are being provided out of “honesty and transparency”.
“It’s not about finger-pointing, it’s about open accountability and transparency when things go wrong,” he stated.
The outbreak in the dormitories was inevitable, says Dr Jeremy Lim
Meanwhile, public health expert Dr Jeremy Lim responded to the issue being raised by an audience during the Q&A session of the webinar and hinted that “the outbreak in the dormitories was inevitable due to the nature of the congregation”.
According to Dr Lim, any places that are congested with a crowd of people is at risk.
“Perhaps at the earliest warning signs, we really should’ve moved faster to move people out of the dormitories, and to ensure better spacing,” he said.
Mr Lim said that the government knew very little about the “substantial population”, hence the difficult response. He added, “It was very clear that there are many different types of dormitories, hence it’s hard to get equipped on this.”
Noting that he has been in many migrant worker dormitories that are under lockdown, Mr Lim said that the migrant workers are “clinically very well” but they have to be quarantined in their quarters to protect Singaporeans from being infected with the virus.
“They have been lockdown not for themselves but for us. Their lockdown is really to protect the rest of the Singaporeans and not them. They are undergoing incredible economic and psychological hardships because they are protecting us,” Mr Lim remarked.