The inter-agency task force has served out more than 10 million catered meals to all workers living in the 43 purpose-built dormitories in the country, said Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on his Facebook page yesterday (29 April).
In a long post, Mr Zaqy thanked friends and members of the public for their concern over the food that is being catered to these workers at the dormitories. He acknowledged the messages he has received via text and Facebook as well as emails and other feedback over the past few days asking whether the quality of the food provided at the dorms are really that bad and if feedback from workers were taken into consideration.
The post also included several photographs showing the food that has been catered to the workers, including a screenshot of message that is presumably from a worker who expressed thanks for the food. One message said, “today nite food only good” with a photo of empty food containers and workers showing thumbs up.
This concern over the quality of the food being catered was raised earlier this month as workers shared photos of the food they received which were unappetising and plain, sometimes with vegetable that was too old and hard to eat. Workers were unable to get food from outside either since they were prohibited from leaving the dormitory as it was on lockdown due to COVID-19.
In his post, Mr Zaqy explained, “We have moved in decisively from Day 1 to cater meals instead of continuing with communal cooking, which had been the norm. The risk of further transmission was too great.”
Highlighting the scale of such an undertaking, the minister said that the taskforce is catering meals for over 200,000 workers of at least half a dozen different nationalities. He likened it to catering meals for the whole of the Ang Mo Kio GROC.
“All the army camps together don’t even come close,” he added.
Mr Zaqy went on to say that the taskforce has been working around the clock to ensure that those workers have “proper food that suit their dietary and taste preferences, delivered in a timely fashion”, adding that they have started to also reach out to workers living in non-purpose built dormitories.
Giving an outline of the efforts, Mr Zaqy said that 34 professional caterers are “constantly adjusting the meals to take in feedback from workers themselves” while thousands of employers are finding out and attending to their workers’ needs.
Involved in this effort includes non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with “hundreds of volunteers” including Migrant Workers’ Centre, Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach, HealthServe COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition and more, said th eminister.
Mr Zaqy continued, “We always knew that this was going to be challenging. But our people – civil servants, Singaporeans from all walks of life who volunteered to work with us at the frontlines, and our NGOs – responded passionately, and stepped up to help.”
However, he also admitted that there were “teething issues” at first, though things have improved since then.
He said, “Admittedly, there were teething issues in the beginning when we started our operations on the ground. But things have gotten better, and are continuing to improve. In addition to the daily meals, we also made sure that the workers received treats during the Tamil and Bangladeshi New Year in the middle of April.”
“Special preparations were made for Muslim workers throughout Ramadan this month, so that they can break fast properly,” he added.
Mr Zaqy then suggested ways that workers and community partners can help in this effort.
“For feedback involving our PBDs, please reach out to our FAST officers on the ground for feedback or assistance. You know who they are, and they stand ready to help.”
“For feedback involving the factory converted dorms and other private residential arrangements, please reach out to your respective employers on your concerns, so that they can help. MOM [Ministry of Manpower] will help them if they require more assistance.”
Mr Zaqy also urged employers and dormitory operators to check in on their workers regularly so that they are aware of any concerns and are able to work with FAST and MOM to find solutions quickly.
He then said that flagging concerns on social media would take time as FAST officers would have to track down every single case, adding too that old photos being recirculated could cause false alarms.
“We do not want to send our officers on a wild goose chase when the time taken could have been better spent in meeting the workers’ needs,” said Mr Zaqy.
“We all care for the welfare of our migrant workers. So, let’s work together with MOM and the Inter-agency Taskforce on this, so that we can all tide through this challenging period together,” he concluded.
In response to Mr Zaqy’s remark about how to provide feedback at non-purpose built dormitories, one commenter, Hua Ying, pointed out that as those places do not have FAST teams, the onus would be on the employer to respond to concerns.
Hua Ying asked, “What about employers who refuse to respond to their workers or have even abandoned them? If their concerns were being addressed, they wouldn’t have had to resort to contacting NGOs & posting on social media.”
She subsequently clarified that she is specifically referring to workers living in factory-converted dormitories and private housing which have no FAST teams assigned to them as they haven’t been gazetted as isolation areas.
Mr Zaqy replied that those workers can reach out directly to MOM.