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COVID-19: S’pore’s Migrant Workers Horrifying Living Conditions ー Where’s Our Empathy?

As much as COVID-19 brought out the best in people, it’s unfortunately done the opposite too. In this coronavirus climate, the current situation of dormitory workers in Singapore has become a hot topic.

With a recent spike in cases linked to dorms, a lot of light’s come to shine on the drastic situations present in the living conditions of the migrant workers here.

This resulted in controversy arising with regards to what’s being done to ensure their safety and welfare. If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s some context on what all the fuss is about.

Horrifying Homes of Our Foreign Friends

It’s nothing short of a shame that in this first world country we still treat these workers in inhumane ways. Our city prides itself for its advancement, but we fail to progress and continue living in the past when it comes to civil rights for migrant workers.

Credit-The Straits Times

Picture staying with your extended family of 20 people in a 3-room flat. This is the reality for our dormitory friends. Their personal space is confined to a single bunk of a shared double-decker bed.

Reports also revealed that disease-ridden insects and cockroaches run around their dormitories and kitchensーpotentially harming the food they consume.

Credit-Kokila Annamalai

Credit-Jason Lee

When it comes to sustenance, many have no choice but to eat cheap non-nutritional food provided by their profit-driven employers. They’re then expected to break their backs throughout long hours with a meal that barely sustains them.

However, rather than just evoking sympathy, this situation has brought out the ugliest sides of some Singaporeans.

A Disgusting Singaporean Mentality

The internet has fuelled a hive mind of privileged keyboard warriors that went online to blast these dormitory workers. They blame and shame these hard-working migrant workers for living in such a manner as if it’s a choice they made on their own.

Credit-Jason See

Credit-Kokila Annamalai

Credit-Jason See

This is precisely what happens when you grow up with a silver spoon and define hardship as not being able to turn on the aircon because it needs servicing.

In an alternate universe, where these people weren’t entitled and self-centred, perhaps they’d consider that these workers don’t share the same lifestyles and circumstances as them. Unlike most Singaporeans, they don’t have the luxury of working a 9 to 5 job. They work tirelessly and laboriously and some for more than 12 hours a day, barely getting a break.

Even in modern-day households, Singaporeans complain that we’re too tired to clean up our messes. How can you then expect them to continually look out for their hygiene when they’re busy working even longer hours?

They’re humans just like you and I. They deserve to enjoy their lives too. The difference between the time, space and money we each possess creates a distinction in what we can afford to do.

Credit-Jason See

It’s not an issue that can easily be solved with a ‘cleaning schedule’. Yet, there are still many Facebook warriors out there publically making ignorant statements, stuck in their sanctimonious bubbles, assuming they’re right when the truth is, they couldn’t be any more wrong.

Snap Out Of Your Delusion & See The Bigger Picture

Credit-The Straits Times

How can the virus stop spreading when everyone is packed like sardines in their dorms? Their conditions provide the best environment for the virus to spread and this proved itself when over 200 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed to stem from migrant workers just on 9 April alone.

We emphasise the need for social responsibility yet we fail to realise that social distancing is a privilege that these workers do not get to enjoy due to physical constraints.

Cleaning and disinfecting will now be heightened. But why are these measures only taken after the virus has already infected the territory? Why were these workers excluded when there was a nationwide provision of masks by the government earlier on?

Credit-Hanidah Amin

It’s not as if activists haven’t been trying to warn the government since the earlier stages that overcrowding and sanitation is a major issue. But unfortunately, matters had to be blown out of proportion before proper action began to take place.

Some argue that the conditions in Singapore are far better than other countries, attempting to soften the blow of the seriousness in this matter. However, this by no means validates the treatment they’ve been receiving.

There is no glory in being the lesser of two evils. Just because the situation is better here does not mean that it’s okay. There is a dire need to put an end to this monstrosity rather than making ourselves feel good by claiming it’s worse elsewhere.

The Major Issue of Xenophobia


Sadly, the problem lies beyond these migrant workers and the homes that they inhabit. The fact is that some Singaporeans are just xenophobic. These workers come here and offer their services at low costs but are expected to give their lives away to labour.

Many Singaporeans have unfortunately adopted the holier-than-thou mentality that led them to believe that they’re better than these migrant workers. Though our education system is stellar, it’s failed to nurture many individuals with a basic sense of human decency.

No level of social status should ever make you feel like your life is more important than another’s. You have no right to make bold assumptions of supremacy and put yourself on a pedestal. This is not something that should have to be pointed out, so the fact that it has to be said emphasises the presence of an alarming issue.

Equality holds no exceptions, they’re for everyone―not just the privileged.

Fortunately, Not All Hope is Lost

Ignoring the black sheep, plenty of Singaporeans restored my faith in humanity through their initiatives to help our foreign friends. Though it took a pandemic for people to begin noticing these workers, it’s resulted in a rapid increase in awareness. This led to several members of the public coming together to help these migrant workers.

Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo, promised on 6 April 2020 that more would be done to address living standards in dormitories. She pointed out the enormity of the tasks ahead of her ministry in dealing with the situation and committed to ensuring that things would be different.

Migrant rights groups and Singaporeans will hold her to that promise. Now that the virus breakout has raised public awareness altogether, the men who built our city on their backs may finally get better treatment.

Credit-Jason See

Prettipls also highlighted in her Youtube video that there were a lot of flaws in the actions were taking to assist the migrant workers. This includes a lot of ambiguity behind who exactly would receive help and how it would be carried out.

With people questioning the nature of the assistance and doing the relevant research required, there’s more and more clarity with regards to why what’s being done for them is simply not enough.

Petitions, fundraisers and charities have begun as Singaporeans gather to render support for our foreign friends. The message is spreading and relevant authorities have no choice but to hear us as the volume of people calling for change is now extremely significant.

Credit-Kokila Annamalai

Positive amendments such as better food quality have started to arise but they won’t sustain unless people continue to fight against the inequality. Rise in the face of adversity and stand up for these migrant workers in every way you can as their lives are just as important as ours. It’s high time they got the rights that they deserved and this is your chance to make a meaningful difference in this world.

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