Coronavirus: 265,000 foreign workers get nod to return to work

Foreign workers in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors have been given the green light.
Foreign workers in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors have been given the green light.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Authorities on track to clear all foreign worker dormitories of Covid-19 by tomorrow: MOH

The Covid-19 restrictions have forced firms in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors to halt work since April, with many still unable to fully resume operations.

But the dark days have begun to recede.

As of Tuesday, 265,000 foreign workers in those three sectors have been given the green light to return to work, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Of these, 180,000 are residents in dormitories. This is a 73 per cent increase from a fortnight ago, when just 104,000 workers in dorms were allowed to do so, MOM said in a statement on Tuesday.

In a separate update yesterday, the Ministry of Health added that the authorities remain on track to clear all foreign worker dormitories of Covid-19 by tomorrow.

But 17 standalone blocks in eight purpose-built dormitories will continue to serve as quarantine facilities.

They currently house about 9,700 workers, the authorities said.

These workers have to serve out their 14-day isolation period and take a Covid-19 test before they can resume work.

An additional block in Westlite Mandai, a purpose-built dormitory, will also remain as a quarantine facility.

MOM said the reason is that a dormitory operator had found that its residents did not stringently observe the quarantine requirements during the initial 14-day isolation period.

"Although many tested negative at the end of the isolation period, we share the operator's concerns and assessed that it would be prudent to go through another round of isolation," the ministry added.

As of Tuesday, 127 more dormitories have been cleared of Covid-19, bringing the total cleared to 1,109 dormitories and 52 blocks for recovered workers in 14 purpose-built dormitories.

Additionally, about 273,000 foreign workers, or close to 90 per cent of dorm residents, have either recovered or have been tested and found to be free of Covid-19 as of Monday.

 
 
 
 

Many of them are staying in cleared dormitories or blocks for recovered workers, and can resume work once dormitory operators, employers and workers have made the necessary preparations to minimise the risk of new infections, said MOM.

A worker allowed to resume work will see a green access code on his SGWorkPass app, after taking specified steps. These include downloading an app to update his health status.

"Many dormitories complete the steps almost immediately, with almost all completing in a week or less," said an MOM spokesman.

Mr Thomas Oh, director of Beng Khim Engineering and Construction, is relieved that about two-thirds of his roughly 300 workers can head back to work, though a small number still face some issues owing to Covid-19 restrictions.

For instance, main contractors are allowed to have workers from only up to 10 different addresses present at a work site, which means some still cannot resume work.

Mr Oh is among more than 100 sub-contractors who had written to the Government in June about issues faced by the industry, including financial difficulties.

In response, MOM announced last Saturday that the Government will give a full waiver of the foreign worker levy for three more months, and more levy rebates to firms in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors.

Mr Oh said: "We felt pretty hopeless back then - it was like we were just waiting to die. But the Government has reacted positively. The improvements in the past two to three weeks and the announcement of more financial support have given the industry a chance to fight for survival."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2020, with the headline '265,000 foreign workers get nod to return to work'. Print Edition | Subscribe