Singapore—On the same day that a story was published in The Straits Times (ST) showing the poor living conditions at a foreign workers’ dormitory, Josephine Teo, the country’s Manpower Minister, said in a Facebook post that the standards in these dormitories undoubtedly need to be raised.
However, for now, she said her team at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) needs to concentrate on the “enormity of the task at hand.” Ms Teo was referring to the challenge of preventing a further spread of coronavirus infections among the 200,000 migrant workers living in 43 dormitories.
She wrote, “My team is already working round the clock. They are on the front lines dealing with sometimes very tense conditions. Please do not demoralise them with finger-pointing. They deserve better.”
But Ms Teo made the promise to deal with upgrading living conditions for foreign workers, saying, “Let us cross this important hurdle during this ‘circuit breaker’, and then we can deal with this issue in a dedicated way. You have my word.”
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The ST article said that workers from the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol, one of the two dormitories designated as an isolation area because of the number of Covid-19 cases there, have said the dormitory’s toilets are overflowing and that the rooms are infested with cockroaches. Furthermore, there have been no social distancing measures to ensure that residents stay apart from one another.
The article quotes workers at Westlite Toh Guan, the other gazetted dormitory, saying that the situation is similarly unhygienic there. “
You can see cockroaches crawling in the rooms. There are also many mosquitoes. Many people just stood outside their rooms, in the corridors. There are also smoking areas at each end of the corridors, and the toilets are also there. You can smell urine when you stand outside the rooms,” said one worker, Venkate S.H., to ST.
The article caused retired diplomat Tommy Koh to write, “The way Singapore treats its foreign workers is not First World but Third World…They stay in overcrowded dormitories and are packed likes sardines with 12 persons to a room. The dormitories are not clean or sanitary. The dormitories were like a time bomb waiting to explode. They have now exploded with many infected workers. Singapore should treat this as a wake up call to treat our indispensable foreign workers like a First World country should and not in the disgraceful way in which they are treated now. “
Ms Teo wrote in her post that before the dorms were constructed, many migrant workers lived in “very poor and unhygienic conditions,” often where their worksites were.
In today’s purpose-built dormitories, there are bedrooms with beds, toilets and showers, recreational areas, supermarkets or minimarts, as well as dedicated sick bays, wrote Ms Teo.
These dormitories are regulated, and under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act, need to meet hygiene and sanitation conditions. She added that MOM’s staff regularly inspects their premises to ensure adherence to set standards. —/TISG
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