Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has, in a video message marking International Migrants Day, expressed his appreciation to migrant workers in Singapore. Among other things, he thanked the many migrant workers in Singapore for their continued trust, patience and support and acknowledged the difficulties they had to endure and continue to endure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As he reassured migrant workers that they would be cared for in the same way Singaporeans would be, he credited their contribution saying: “We could not have done this without your cooperation and sacrifices…..You are welcomed members of our society. If you fall ill, we will make sure you get medical care, stay in touch with your families, and can return to work as soon as possible.”
While PM Lee’s words will likely provide a degree of comfort to the migrant workers, how much of his words ring true?
Even as PM Lee speaks, the international media has revealed that the COVID-19 cases among our migrant workers are at least three times higher than what was actually reported. A rights group has said it is “unsurprised” after it was reported that almost half of Singapore’s migrant workers have been infected with Covid-19 in the past nine months. Yet, this is not something that our mainstream media have emphasised on.
New data from MOH shows that 152,000 foreign workers – 47% – have been infected. Without including the migrant worker infections, fewer than 4,000 people have tested positive in Singapore. When you compare the figures in this staggering manner, how can PM Lee say that migrant workers are cared for in the same way as Singaporeans?
A large part of why there are so many migrant worker infections has been attributed to their tight living quarters and logistical difficulties in self-isolating. Have these living conditions changed? If not, then PM Lee’s words are simply words that ring hollow.
While a positive video speech on International Migrant Day is a great start, it will not really help the situation if such words are not followed up by concrete actions.
Even as PM Lee’s speech was aired, Alex Au (Au) of the charity Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) told the BBC that many of our migrant workers “have been locked in for eight months.” Even as the rest of the country is preparing to enter into Phase 3, our migrant workers are still locked up by prisoners even though they have done nothing wrong! As Au says: “there is no justification for Singapore to treat migrant workers like prisoners.”
If PM Lee truly means what he says, he needs to address this situation immediately. Otherwise, his words are just empty words.