SINGAPORE - Some 6,500 migrant workers gathered in Little India on Sunday at a carnival held to thank them for their contributions to Singapore.
At the carnival, the workers played games, ate food from their home countries and watched performances by fellow workers.
The carnival was the highlight of a series of activities that started on Dec 10 to mark International Migrants Day, which falls on Dec 18 annually. It was the first large-scale International Migrants Day celebration in Little India since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
Migrant workers build homes, skyscrapers and take on caregiving duties for many here, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon at the carnival. “They are also a key workforce for SMEs, contribute to our economy and provide essential services to support our businesses and communities.”
In the week leading up to Sunday’s event, workers could play in sports tournaments like futsal, visit local attractions such as Gardens by the Bay, and join food and cultural tours. About 50,000 workers attended the eight-day slate of events in total, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said.
At Sunday’s event in Little India, excited chatter filled the carnival and long queues formed for free arcade games. Familiar street bites like vadai and banh mi were sold at low prices. A rapt audience also watched cooking demonstrations of cuisine from India and Myanmar.
The Little India event was jointly organised by MOM’s Assurance, Care and Engagement group that oversees the well-being of migrant workers in Singapore, and the Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach, an arm of charity Hope Initiative Alliance (HIA).
HIA president, Reverend Ezekiel Tan, said holding the carnival at a centralised location like Little India, which is accessible to migrant workers, is critical to providing them with a sense of normalcy as Singapore emerges from the pandemic.
Migrant workers, particularly those living in dormitories, were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 175,000 out of 323,000 dorm residents infected as at end-2021, and strict, prolonged curbs imposed on their movement.
“It is important (to provide a sense of normalcy) because Singapore is a country of migrants, and we rely a lot on both migrant domestic employees and migrant workers to bring about the development of Singapore,” said Rev Tan.
He added that HIA hopes to engage more migrant domestic workers, as they will soon be receiving a mandatory monthly rest day from Jan 1, 2023. Employers cannot pay the domestic workers to give up this day.
In his speech, Dr Koh spoke about the ongoing efforts to improve housing standards, healthcare and the social well-being of migrant workers.
“In the years ahead, existing dormitories will need to transition to improved standards to strengthen public health resilience and improve living conditions,” he said, adding that more details on the transition will be disclosed soon. Higher standards have kicked in for all new dorms built after September 2021.
A ninth recreation centre in Sembawang will also open in 2023, providing migrant workers with another recreation option in the northern region of Singapore, he added.
On Sunday, migrant workers’ advocacy group Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) held its own celebration at the MWC Recreation Club in Pioneer, which National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Desmond Tan attended.
There, workers played street soccer, with Mr Tan joining in, as well as badminton and volleyball in the afternoon. After the sports games, 2,000 goodie bags containing items such as toiletries, dry rations and $10 in foodcourt and supermarket vouchers were given away.
Mr Tan presented awards of commendation to 28 migrant workers for actively participating in MWC events and engaging their fellow workers.
Elsewhere, dormitory provider Westlite Accommodation and SPH Media jointly held a cricket tournament on Sunday, with $11,000 at stake across two concurrent tournaments.
At the Ceylon Sports Club, 130 workers from nine dorms formed 12 teams to show off their cricket chops.
At the same time, 60 players played in six corporate sponsors’ teams, each comprising migrant workers, national-level players and under-19 talents to promote integration, in another tournament held concurrently on the Indian Association grounds.
Mr Mollah Sajib, 29, a workplace safety and health coordinator, who was at the Little India event, welcomed the series of events for migrant workers.
Mr Sajib, who is from Bangladesh and has worked in Singapore for nine years, said: “It is very helpful to us because the last two years were very stressful. We could only go to work and go back to sleep, without going outside.”