Singapore—The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has been sending out its officers to talk to and disperse migrant workers who have been gathering together on Sundays, their day off, for the past three weeks now, with additional officers deployed yesterday (Mar 29), after more stringent social distancing measures were announced by the Government last week.
On the first two Sundays, March 15 and 22, MOM sent out around 40 officers to speak to different groups of foreign workers in such areas as City Plaza, Lucky Plaza and Little India, according to a report from Channel NewsAsia (CNA). On March 29, the third Sunday, MOM increased the officers it deployed to 130.
CNA quotes MOM as saying that the migrant workers spoken to have thus far been “highly cooperative.”
According to the assistant director of MOM’s foreign manpower management division, Aaron Ang, “We always try to explain the reason why there is a need to practice safe distancing and encourage them to disperse.”
However, should the workers resist MOM’s officers’ efforts to disperse them, there are consequences already in place.
“In the event they are uncooperative, we will take action such as revoking their work pass. But so far … based on past weeks, the workers have been highly cooperative and they are understanding as to why we’re doing this.”
Last Wednesday (Mar 25), the Ministry announced that it would increase the number of officers patrolling on Sundays and also ask groups that congregate to disband, adding it may revoke the work passes of those who refuse to comply.
On Friday, a 10-person limit on people gathering together was implemented by the Government, aside from school and work purposes.
“This week we are going out in bigger numbers simply because the situation requires us to step up in these congregation sites, and to reach more congregation sites. Last Sunday, we are doing the same but … this Sunday, the message is different, the message is a stronger one,” said the director of well-being at MOM’s foreign manpower management division, Jeanette Har.
She added that MOM will continue with their efforts, which includes putting up posters and leaflets explaining the new social distancing rules in several languages including Malay and Tagalog, as long as this is needed.
Ms Har said that the drastic action of revoking work passes would not be done until after the employers of the migrant workers had been spoken to, but so far, MOM has not needed to even reach this step.
She said some of the migrant workers have been thankful for MOM’s officers reaching out to them.
“Foreign workers have an important role to help contain the spread of Covid-19. We are heartened to see that our messaging on stricter social distancing has worked well,” the straitstimes.com quotes her as saying.
Recently, some foreign domestic workers noted that tensions are arising between them and their employers amid the present Covid-19 crisis. The New Paper (TNP) reported that while some helpers would still prefer to spend their off days outside the houses where they are employed, their employers feel otherwise.
In one extreme case, a domestic helper found herself jobless after her contract was cancelled when she came home from being on leave, as her employer said they could not afford her salary if she was quarantined.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has said that she’s aware that some people would prefer for the Ministry of Manpower to simply mandate helpers to stay home on their rest days, but as she noted in a Facebook post on Sunday (Mar 22), “others have pointed out it does not make much sense to impose such a requirement on domestic helpers when everyone else at home is moving about and also at risk.” —/TISG