SINGAPORE - The disordered roll-out of new testing and isolation protocols was one of the factors that led to delays in moving Covid-19-positive workers living in the Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory to off-site care and recovery facilities.
Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, the chairman of the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC), said this in a media statement on Wednesday (Oct 20), adding that logistical and resource challenges in the transfer of workers to care facilities and an unexpected spike in infections among residents in the dormitory also played a part.
MWC and representatives of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union visited the Jurong dorm last Friday.
Mr Yeo said that most of the workers' concerns regarding newly implemented safe management measures and Covid-19 testing and isolation protocols were resolved within a day after their plight was covered on local media last Thursday.
Among the new measures implemented at dorms since the start of this month are that fully vaccinated workers who test positive for Covid-19 and have no symptoms are to isolate and recover in a dedicated facility within their dormitory for up to 10 days, while workers with symptoms are given a polymerase chain reaction test and sent to a community care facility or hospital depending on their condition.
Mr Yeo said workers whom MWC spoke to confirmed that the authorities "promptly resolved the situation by working with the dormitory operator and employers to rectify the delays and bring order and stability back to the dormitory".
He added: "They also told us that since the improvements were made, the transfer process for Covid-19-positive cases had become more timely, and they hoped that the smoother process would continue."
The dormitory came under the spotlight last week after reports of delays in workers with Covid-19 being sent to care facilities.
Things came to a head when workers gathered en masse to voice their frustrations last Wednesday, and riot police were deployed to the vicinity.
Mr Yeo said a team from MWC and representatives from the union had visited the dormitory to confirm that issues raised were being addressed, to check on the residents' physical and emotional states and to assist them in resolving any lingering, employment or well-being issues.
Though many others had already been moved from the dormitory and many of the remaining residents had not returned from work at the time of the visit, they were able to engage with about 200 migrant workers.
During the visit, Mr Yeo said they learnt that some of the migrant workers did not understand the reasons and strategy behind the new safe management measures and testing and isolation protocols, which might have contributed to the confusion and disorder.
He added that the team has given this feedback to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and is working urgently with the ministry to address this.
Mr Yeo said that through the ambassadors and other communication channels, including MWC's 24-hour helpline, it will also be monitoring the situation on the implementation of the new protocols and will surface any other irregularities or delays immediately for MOM's attention.
Pictures of food that workers were given that was spoilt or contained insects had been circulated online, and Mr Yeo said MWC understands that the authorities are investigating the matter.
He added that though the MWC team and union representatives were not able to meet anyone who encountered such food, many of the workers they spoke to said there were sometimes issues with the timeliness and quantity of the meals but that this was rectified after controls were put in place by authorities and employers .
Migrant workers had told the team that more could be done to ensure that the catered food meets the tastes and dietary preferences of the workers, especially those from China.
As those coming China have a wide range of dietary preferences based on where they are from, Mr Yeo said it can sometimes take time to reach the optimal catering arrangements for them, and while this was explained to them, the workers were told that it is an endeavour that the employer must do right.
"We repeated to the Chinese migrant workers that their employer had committed to put more attention and resources into working out the most optimal dietary preference solutions as soon as possible and reassured them that we, too, would continue to monitor the progress of this aspect," Mr Yeo.
Mr Yeo added that his team was told that up until the week before Oct 13, the Chinese workers were able to make online purchases of more familiar Chinese sundries, groceries and rations unobtainable from the dormitory's on-site minimart, which would be delivered to them in the dormitory and allow them to supplement their catered food with more familiar dietary options.
The workers explained that these deliveries to the dormitory were stopped a week earlier, accentuating the less-than-optimal catering situation.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Kong Chee Min, chief executive of Centurion Corporation which manages nine dorms under the Westlite brand, said the dormitory receives parcels for the residents if they are out or at work and informs them to collect them later.
He added that residents order items in bulk or even palette-loads for distribution or resale among their fellow residents, and that can impede activity in essential operations areas - such as security counters and fire engine access. It also interferes with safe living measures and safe distancing controls.
Hence, when the number of positive cases rose, the dormitory temporarily halted deliveries to “avoid interrupting the movement of Covid-19 cases and also to reduce contact and contagion risks.”
MWC had advised the employers and dormitory management to restart the deliveries to the dormitory, and Mr Yeo said the residents appreciated the return of this additional service.
Mr Yeo said the engagement also raised certain concerns that some migrant workers had regarding their workplace environment.
These were recorded and sent to the employers so that steps may be taken to create a safer and more conducive work environment for all workers.
When asked what these concerns were, an MWC spokesman said it was working with the employer to ensure stricter enforcement of Covid-19 safety measures and “the provision of amenities to make life better for the migrant workers”.
"We understand that the employers are implementing some measures in response to our feedback," he said.
"As with the other feedback we have given to the various stakeholders, we will also continue to monitor these new measures, as well as the sentiment and condition of the migrant workers in response."
Mr Yeo thanked the welfare and corporate organisations that have stepped forward to donate sundries and provisions to the workers, as well as members of the public for their care and concern.
He said: "Having visited the dormitory to observe the mood and situation amongst the residents, as well as engage with them directly, we can update that the situation has been stabilised, with the key concerns of the workers having also been addressed or in the process of being rectified.
Well-wishers who wish to contribute towards supporting the needy or distressed migrant workers in general, can do so via this website.
Correction note: A previous version of this story said that Centurion Corporation manages eight dorms under the Westlite brand. The company has clarified that it manages nine dorms under the Westlite brand. We are sorry for the error.