SINGAPORE - A scene of chaos and neglect has emerged at a newly built foreign worker dormitory in Jurong, with residents alleging poor living conditions and a lack of timely access to medical help for Covid-19.
Photos and videos of workers at the Westlite Jalan Tukang dorm voicing their frustrations with how they are being treated have been uploaded on multiple online platforms since Tuesday (Oct 12).
Workers there said they were not given proper access to medical support, and were not properly isolated. About a quarter of the 2,000 workers staying in the dorm have reportedly tested positive for Covid-19, workers told a Wechat-based news portal.
But Sembcorp Marine, which employs a large number of the workers, and the dorm’s operator Westlite Accomodation said on Thursday (Oct 14) that the dorm has been observing Covid-19 health testing and movement protocols.
The situation reached a tipping point on Wednesday (Oct 13), when residents gathered en masse to confront the dormitory's management. Armoured riot police were later called in.
Photos that have surfaced online showed workers believed to have Covid-19 infection sleeping at the corridors and walkways outside the dorm rooms.
They alleged that they did so to prevent their roommates from catching the virus from them, as no one came to isolate them while they awaited medical care.
A resident who wanted to be known only as Mr Ren, 41, told The Straits Times that residents have been frustrated with the lack of medical assistance.
"(The dormitory management) does not care about those who are sick - these men had been sick for about seven or eight days," he said.
"Their fever had gotten very high, and we had to make noise about it before anything was done."
He added that the situation escalated on Wednesday, when the residents confronted the management as a group.
Although there were raised voices, the workers did not resort to violence, he said.
The police were called in at about 1pm, and deployed at least four vehicles from the Special Operations Command.
Armoured police officers and vehicles were also seen at the dormitory.
One video showed the workers shouting as riot police formed up just outside the dorm entrance.
ST understands that the dorm residents are of different nationalities, but had banded together to voice their frustrations.
Aside from a lack of timely medical support, they also claimed poor living conditions, and that they were given food that had worms or had gone bad.
Some of the workers had threatened to quit and return to their homelands because they were frustrated with how they were being treated.
Mr Ren said he has since resigned and just wants to go home.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday that it was aware of allegations of a breach of healthcare protocols, lack of access to medical support, and poor quality of food at the dorm.
Its preliminary investigations found that there were indeed delays in transferring workers who tested positive for Covid-19 to the appropriate facilities.
"We are working on transferring those who required further medical care to the appropriate healthcare facilities for treatment," said an MOM spokesman.
However, a spokesman for Sembcorp Marine claimed its employees living at the dorm may not have been fully aware of the current protocols.
About 1,400 of the 3,420 beds at the dorm are occupied by workers from Sembcorp Marine, according to Westlite Accommodation, which is under the Centurion group.
“The company understands that Westlite is following the mandatory Covid-19 health testing and movement protocols and they have been working closely with the relevant authorities,” said the Sembcorp Marine spokesman.
“The company is mindful that the current protocols in Singapore may not be apparent to the residents in the Tukang dorm, and may differ from Covid-19 management measures from their home country.”
Sembcorp Marine also said it had issued reminders to its caterer to strictly adhere to hygiene standards.
The company did not address the issues raised by the workers, such as why they were not isolated and taken to the relevant facilities immediately upon testing positive, as is the stated protocol.
Westlite Accomodation also said that prevailing Covid-19 protocols have been followed at its Jalan Tukang dorm, but acknowledged delays in moving affected workers to the appropriate facilities.
“Over the past week, there has been a spike in cases detected among Sembcorp Marine workers,” it said. “Due to the large numbers, there have been delays in conveyance to recovery facilities and healthcare facilities.”
Westlite added that it has been working closely with MOM to deal with the issue. ST has contacted MOM for further comment.
The dormitory in question had just started operating in the second quarter of this year.
Developed by Jurong Town Corporation and managed by Centurion, the 3,420-bed facility was touted as having "new pilot specifications" that went beyond current rules such as on occupancy ratios to be more pandemic resilient.
The incident on Wednesday comes almost two weeks after updates to health measures for migrant workers living in dormitories were announced.
Under the new measures, fully vaccinated workers who test positive but have no symptoms are to be isolated in a dedicated facility within the dorms for up to 10 days.
Those with symptoms are to be taken to community care facilities or hospitals depending on their condition.
Manpower Minister Tan See Leng had given his assurance then to migrant workers, whom he called "brothers", that they would receive appropriate medical care.
"Please be assured that MOM will be here to walk every step of the journey with you, and work through any operational challenges that you may encounter," he said.
"To our migrant worker brothers living in the dormitories, I would also like to assure them that they will continue to receive the appropriate medical care if and when they require it."