Boss goes extra mile so workers don't miss out on Deepavali cheer

Mr Muniasami poses with the Deepavali decorations put together by McKnight Engineering, at 131 Tuas View Square, on Nov 11, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Unable to return home to his family in India this year, Mr Muniasami expected Deepavali at his dormitory to be a muted affair.

With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging in his home town of Ramanathapuram, in the southern part of Tamil Nadu, Mr Muniasami, 39, did not have high hopes of making the trip back to celebrate the festival with his parents, wife and two sons, aged 15 and 18.

On Nov 5, he watched curiously as a team of decorators arrived at the factory-converted dormitory in Tuas View, where he works as its custodian. He stays there with about 70 other workers.

When the workers returned to the dorm after work, they were greeted by twinkling fairy lights, hoardings that were painted gold, and bright flowers, turning the dorm into what one worker called a "wedding house".

The transformation was a result of the efforts of Mr Muniasami's boss, Ms Joey Tan, managing director of local industrial engineering firm McKnight Engineering.

Ms Tan, 44, wanted to give the workers, who were anxious about the pandemic and their families, something to look forward to.

She said: "I wish I can do more for them, like taking them out for a day or two. But it is not allowed at this moment.

"We started planning this in mid-October, and it was really worth it to see the looks on their faces.

"The lights are fantastic. Hopefully it will bring them some joy."

(From left) Migrant workers Mariappan Venkidhesan, Muniyan Murugesan, Muniasami, Saminathan Sakthivel and Baskaran Guruprasarth. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

After the initial surprise, the beaming workers made video calls to their family members overseas and showed them what their boss had done.

Speaking in Tamil, Mr Muniasami, who goes by only one name, said: "My wife was jealous. She said although I am alone here, I seem to be having a better Deepavali than my relatives back home."

Usually, his home town is abuzz with fireworks and festive fairs as Deepavali approaches.

This year, the whole place is like a ghost town due to a lockdown amid a spike in Covid-19 cases.

The family's sole breadwinner is most worried for his mother, a cancer patient in her late 60s.

He said: "During the circuit breaker, my mother had to stay in hospital to undergo chemotherapy. I felt guilty that my son had to care for my parents, which is my duty. My wife even pawned some of her jewellery to pay for the medical expenses."

Mr Muniasami's eldest son, a nursing student, hopes to work at a Singapore hospital one day. His younger son is in India's equivalent of junior college.

When Ms Tan heard about his plight, she offered to help him financially. Said Mr Muniasami: "She helps us meet payments for our children's annual school fees and looks out for us. Her attention and care is why I have stayed on with the company for eight years, and I will not look for work anywhere else."

Ms Tan also gave the workers gift packs of chocolates and cash ranging from $450 to $1,500.

She said: "The circuit breaker and last few months were hard on the workers. One worker's father had a failing kidney and his brother could not walk after an accident.

"We appealed to the embassy and managed to send him home on a chartered flight."

About six workers at the dorm contracted Covid-19 this year.

All have since recovered fully.

Today, the dorm residents will enjoy a specially catered meal, with masala crab and fried fish, along with music, snacks and games. Ms Tan said this is her way of thanking the workers for sticking by her in a challenging year.

She said: "After commercial flights to India became available in August, the workers made the hard decision to remain here because of their families' needs.

"This is the least I could do to thank them for building this company with me, and for building Singapore."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.