On 4 May 2020, Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. She emphasised that their priority is to protect the livelihoods of Singaporeans, but the need to take care of our Migrant Workers is equally important.
She shared that studies showed not all blocks or rooms are equally affected. Across different dormitories, the cases were linked through common work sites where workers would actively engage with one another. It was also found that the majority of the infected workers had mild symptoms and were only found positive due to active case finding. This explains why the cases were few and far between up to mid-March.
They are now implementing a three-pronged strategy to contain the spread of the virus, prevent it from reaching new areas, and moving and testing workers required for essential work. She added that most of the workers are well and those tested positive are on the path to recovery. The full results of these efforts will, however, take time to show.
Mrs Teo also mentioned that about 20 purpose-built dormitories for foreign workers breach dormitory licence conditions each year. This amounts to almost half of the 43 such dormitories regulated under the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (Feda), which together house approximately 200,000 workers. Annually, an average of 1,200 employers are punished for providing unacceptable accommodation for their workers.
The minister said that when lapses are found, they must be rectified immediately. Dorm operators can be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to a year for such offences, or both. For other housing types, employers can be fined up to $10,000, face a jail term of up to a year, or both, under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.
When questioned by Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat about the virus outbreak among foreign workers, she told the House that accommodation standards for migrant workers have improved over the years but acknowledged that further improvements could be made.
She spoke about how they interact very closely with the workers themselves regularly both within and beyond the dorms. She believes that what the workers are focused on is how to handle the situation, avoid falling sick, and the actions that should be taken in the event that they do. Other current concerns include how to ensure that their wages are being paid and the means to send their money home.
When nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong questioned if there would be an apology issued, Josephine Teo said, “I have not come across one single migrant worker that has demanded an apology.”
Josephine Teo’s Ministerial Statement on COVID-19 | Website
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