Singapore—Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said on Thursday (May 7) that the poor living conditions in foreign workers’ dormitories should not be seen as the sole cause of the outbreak of infection clusters in these living quarters. Instead, the spread should be attributed to the coronavirus’ highly infectious nature, as well as overcrowding in the dorms.
Mr Tan, who served as Singapore’s Minister of Manpower from 2014 to 2015, spoke to the press on the sidelines of an event for foreign workers’ dormitories, he underlined the importance of not conflating the two issues of the coronavirus pandemic and poor living conditions.
The straitstimes.com quotes him as comparing the situation of students living in university hostels. “For example, in our universities, if the hostels remained open and the students were there, you would expect a massive outbreak to occur as well. If people are living in close quarters, given the contagious nature of this virus, outbreaks will occur.”
The Speaker answered questions about the outbreak of coronavirus cases in foreign workers’ dormitories, where over 85 percent of Singapore’s infections are found. He said that poor living conditions are not the only reason, even if some dorms are “abysmal.”
However, he said that the issue is not about “white-washing” the situation, but avoiding generalising dorm conditions as a whole.
The cramped and sometimes unhygienic conditions in dormitories have become an issue in the national conversation due to the high number of infections in the dormitories. Even the quality of the workers’ meals has been in the news.
The Speaker added, “It doesn’t excuse (bad conditions), it is not acceptable and we need to take stringent action against those who violate the law – but it doesn’t represent the whole space and that’s the context that is important.
It is important to speak to the migrant workers as a whole for their lived experience to have a sense of the conditions. And given the scale and nature of this outbreak, we should not conflate the causes with these less-than-accurate generalisations.”
While he acknowledged that many aspects of dormitory living can and will be improved upon by the Government, he urged that issues at hand be dealt with first. “Let’s grapple with the (present) issues, look after our people and look after all the people who are here in Singapore who are affected in different ways,” Mr Tan said.
Many netizens took issue with Mr Tan’s points, disagreeing with what he said about the living conditions in foreign workers’ dormitories. Some netizens even recalled that Mr Tan had once said seniors collected cardboard for exercise.
Others seemed to feel he had missed the point. After all, he had used the word “abysmal” in describing some of the dormitories.
Other people commented, agreeing with Mr Tan, even comparing Singapore’s situation to that of Hong Kong.