SINGAPORE: On Monday (Mar 20), as the Covid-19 White Paper was debated in Parliament, Workers’ Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) underlined the need for better protection for the country’s migrant workers as a matter of social justice and fairness, quoting Mahatma Gandhi in his speech: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
“All Singaporeans ought to recognise the vital role migrant workers play in our society and all of us should be in favour of treating them with the respect and dignity that should be owed to all workers. In fact, I believe many if not most Singaporeans these days strongly favour such principles,” he said.
Mr Perera noted that the White Paper recognizes the deficiencies in relation to how migrant workers fared during the pandemic but added that the country’s health protocols should include protecting the most vulnerable communities in the country.
“They must not be an afterthought in the next health crises,” he added.
The White Paper tackled the outbreaks in migrant workers’ dormitories, acknowledging that it had every possibility of becoming a major disaster. It also said that some of the restrictions on the workers’ movement could have been relaxed earlier, as the “extended restrictions did take a toll on their mental well-being.”
Mr Perera said that the “widespread infection of the workers could have been mitigated if the government had taken more decisive action earlier,” adding that the NGO TWC2 sounded a warning as early as 23 March 2020.
The public was shocked at the cramped, and at times, unsanitary conditions migrant workers have in their dorms, and Mr Perera said that even today, migrant workers say there has been “uneven enforcement for the smaller dormitories” despite an announcement from the Ministry of Manpower that standards would be improved.
“Hence I would like to ask what is the timeline for the improved standards in migrant worker dorms to be rolled out nationally including the role of NEST? And will the government build on this unfortunate experience to develop a clear plan to manage an infectious disease outbreak in migrant worker dorms, with all of the massive logistical challenges that will entail?
I also hope that the Covid episode with migrant workers serves as a powerful reminder to all of us to take the well-being and dignity of migrant workers seriously. In particular enforcement of rules and norms over all kinds of matters like food quality and access to bank accounts and payslips for example, and hotlines to aid in enforcement, should be in place and be seen to be working properly by the migrant workers themselves.”
Mr Perera’s speech may be viewed in full here.