Singapore—In a Facebook post, Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh said that the issues that have recently been in the news concerning the conditions of foreign worker dormitories are not new, but have been brought up by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for years, and were even raised by WP in the past.
What Singapore needs, he wrote in his post, is a mindset change concerning foreign workers.
Mr Pritam wrote on Sunday night (Apr 19) that he had spoken in Parliament about the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill, which encompasses facilities where over 1,000 foreign workers reside. The WP chief asked that the Government “consider building and operating foreign worker dormitories to catalyst improvements in the sector” as well as make the investors and shareholders of these facilities, not just the operators of the dormitories, to be “equally culpable” if the living conditions of the workers are found to be unsatisfactory.
He said that some Members of Parliament, including those belonging to ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), spoke of migrant workers who lived in smaller factory-converted dormitories or rooms that housed fewer than 1,000 workers, which he said was a “live issue” during the debate concerning the Bill. This was because a 1,300 square foot unit in Geylang that had been divided into 11 rooms housing between 88-100 people caught fire in late 2014, wherein four workers had died. Mr Pritam also brought up another case in two small apartments in Selegie Road, where 50 workers “slept shoulder to shoulder, amid rotting food and soiled clothes”.
The WP chief said that given the attention on the living conditions in foreign workers’ dormitories, Singapore now has a chance to review some of these issues “thoroughly.” He said what was urgent is a “total mindset shift towards foreign workers,” and not “just a regulatory review of the living conditions of foreign workers.”
He also called the kindness that ordinary Singaporeans are showing, such as sewing masks and donating goods, “encouraging,” but added that this must continue beyond the point when the coronavirus has been defeated.
Mr Pritam reminded readers of the sheer size of the migrant workers’ sector, “Well in excess of half a million foreign workers – living in different types of accommodation.”
He gave an example of a Singaporean employer who had “little to improve” posting photos of accommodations that looked clean, hygienic and not cramped. Writing that the owner was “a dear fiend” Mr Pritam added that “The company has instituted processes to ensure their workers are looked after. But good outcomes don’t happen automatically. Employers and supervisors must take a personal interest to ensure the well-being of our foreign workers.”
At the end of his post he reminded Singaporeans of the nature of the jobs many of the foreign workers take. “They build our homes. They clean our estates. And they do a lot more we don’t know about or will not be able to bring ourselves to do nor endure.
All foreign workers who work in Singapore deserve dignity and respect. We shouldn’t have to say this anymore.” -/TISG