Members of the public should start recognising COVID-19 infection as a “workplace injury” and extend their empathy to the workers of KTV lounges, not blaming and stigmatising them for the recent KTV cluster, said non-profit organisation that advocates for sex workers in Singapore Project X on Friday (16 July).
Project X’s statement came on the heels of the KTV COVID-19 cluster that was linked to social hostesses, particularly Vietnamese hostesses as the Ministry of Health (MOH) has identified a Vietnamese short-term pass holder as the first case linked to the group.
In a Facebook post, the organisation pointed out that Singaporeans have been constantly making “the costly mistake” of singling out or highlighting people’s nationalities since the pandemic began, which have led to the “spikes in xenophobic and racists actions”.
“From what we have seen and heard, this time it is no different. Our own Vietnamese volunteer was reportedly shouted at when she was at the market shopping for groceries, and photographs purporting to be of the hostesses are being circulated without their consent,” it wrote.
Project X believes that Singapore can do better by moving beyond moral policing, focusing on creating access to vaccines, and demanding safer working environments.
“Let’s recognise that getting COVID-19 is a workplace injury, and extend the compassion and empathy we have shown to other hidden populations and marginalised groups to the workers of the KTVs.
“Nobody wants to get COVID-19, not lest folks who are merely trying to eke out a living,” the organization stressed.
It bears noting that MOH acknowledged that the index case did not contact the virus from overseas but likely to have gotten infected from a local transmission.
Project X also mentioned its Emergency Safety Net Fund that aimed to offer financial assistance to 90 sex workers in need between April and November last year.
It revealed that the recipients were mostly workers engaged in street-based, brothel-based work, hostess work at entertainment venues, and online spaces. While 20 per cent of them were from entertainment work.
“As they were all migrants, they were unable to access government grants and had to rely on the goodwill of their employers, regular customers, and/or friends and family back home.
“To make matters worse, there were either no flights home or that they simply could not afford them. A predicament that many other migrant and vulnerable groups found themselves in,” it added.
Project X found that 93 per cent of the recipients have no income at all between April and September last year due to COVID-19 measures last year, and the rental issue was a key concern amid the pandemic.
About 28.9 per cent of the recipients needed financial assistance for their rent, 28.3 per cent of them requested help for food, 24.1 per cent needed help on their household bills, and 4.9 per cent needed assistance on medical.
This explains why entertainment and sex workers should be allowed to work and earn a living, said Project X, highlighting the need to recognize their labour and role in society.
“The entertainment and nightlife industry in Singapore is part of global neoliberal market for commercialised sex services, an industry that is coloured by gendered, eroticised and moralised ideas of sex but it is also about intimacy and a desire to be recognised and accepted as a sexual being.
“Furthermore, the earnings from sex and entertainment work also play a role in their respective national economies because they involve local and regional remittances that enable women to earn an income and to support their families,” it noted.
Though Project X acknowledged the guidelines set up by the Singapore Nightlife Business Association and agree that nightlife venues should adhere to the guidelines, it noted that blaming and stigmatizing workers are “unproductive and heavy-handed”.
“Reports of establishments and patrons alike flouting measures are unfortunate and a setback in our steady journey towards going back to normalcy.
“But let’s tackle that without the moralising and mockery. There’s especially nothing to gain by throwing those who are already vulnerable under the bus,” it remarked.