Ace Group to support well-being of migrant workers as permanent unit under MOM

Ace Group has recruited a network of 1,200 migrant worker volunteers that will allow the authorities to gather feedback and communicate policies more clearly. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) division that has been caring for migrant workers here over the past year will be made permanent.

The Assurance, Care and Engagement (Ace) Group has to look beyond the current pandemic to the next big outbreak, said its chief Tung Yui Fai, even as it is being kept busy with a recent resurgence of Covid-19 in dormitories.

The intention is for Ace Group to work with employers, dorm operators, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other partners to create an ecosystem that safeguards the well-being of workers.

Mr Tung, 57, told reporters on Sept 22 that the Finance Ministry has already allocated headcount for the division, although the exact size has yet to be approved. Ace Group has just over 1,000 officers. About 5 per cent are seconded from other public agencies.

Comparing its approach to that of community policing, Mr Tung said the division will continue to have officers on the ground to maintain relationships, and build on the trust and experiences gained.

However, this may be reduced in future as in a steady state, MOM cannot be in every single dorm.

Officers have already been pulled out and visit only when there is a need, he added.

There is also no intention for the Government to take over, as was the case at the height of the pandemic in April last year.

"We recognise that the things we want to do in the future cannot be done by Ace Group alone," he said.

Last April, more than 2,000 officers were seconded from six public agencies to quell the surge of Covid-19 infections in dorms.

At its peak, there were more than 1,000 new cases a day at the dorms.

"We were caught unprepared," Mr Tung said.

By August last year, the dorms were cleared of the virus and Ace Group took over with the aim of making the dorms more resilient.

The division also took on additional responsibilities such as setting up onboarding centres for newly arrived workers and organising the Covid-19 vaccination drive for migrant workers here.

These are the building blocks Ace Group has laid over the past year, Mr Tung said. It is focusing on three pillars - healthcare, housing and social resilience - so dorms will not be caught unprepared again.

Last year, regional and on-site medical centres were set up to improve access to medical care for migrant workers.

Next year, a primary care network will be formalised.

Ace Group has also been working with non-profit group HealthServe and the Institute of Mental Health to train workers and officers in psychological first aid, and there is a peer support network of over 100 trained workers in dorms here.

Meanwhile, improved living standards for new dorms were announced this month, and a support package to help existing dorms make the change is in the works.

Ace Group has recruited a network of 1,200 migrant worker volunteers from almost 300 dorms. Called Friends of Ace, the network will allow the authorities to gather feedback and communicate policies more clearly, Mr Tung said.

Going forward, Ace Group wants to be a facilitator and "a catalyst for collective action", he added. "All of us have the same goal. It is just the perspective we take may sometimes seem to be at opposite ends... The key is communication."

For example, the movement curbs that continue to be imposed on workers remain a sore point. Mr Tung said the authorities have taken a more cautious view.

But every month, Ace Group meets representatives of NGOs to share the reasons behind its plans, and to hear issues and ideas raised.

Reflecting on the past one year, Mr Tung said Ace Group has had to do a lot of things quickly, and he accepted it was not always perfect.

The former army brigadier-general said he has also grown to respect migrant workers. "They are truly very resilient," he said. "It is in all of our interests that this group of workers can come here, be safe, work, contribute and return safely back home."

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