Coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus: Job security of migrant workers depends on employers

Migrant workers look out from a factory-converted dormitory before collecting supplies sent to them by NGO Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach at Tech Park Crescent in Tuas on May 27, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The job security of migrant workers who return to work after quarantine will depend on their employers and the state of the economy, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

He was responding to a question from a reporter who noted that migrant workers, such as those in quarantine dormitories, are worried about their future.

"We will take care of the migrant workers during this period when they are in quarantine. That is our commitment," Mr Wong said at a virtual media conference.

"But once workers are recovered and are released to the workforce to work, then whether or not they will continue to work depends on the employers."

Mr Wong said the same holds true for Singaporean workers.

"Because if the state of the economy remains dampened, and demand is weak, it may very well be possible that employers might decide to slow down... businesses may fold," he noted.

Singapore is heading for its worst recession since independence. The economy, which has been hit hard by Covid-19, is projected to shrink by 4 per cent to 7 per cent this year.

The $33 billion supplementary Budget announced on Tuesday - the fourth Budget this year - aims to cushion the economic fallout by creating 100,000 jobs and training opportunities for local workers, among other support measures.

Mr Wong said: "For expatriates, for pass holders, for migrant workers who are here, if indeed (retrenchments) were to happen... they can certainly try and find other opportunities if there are employers who are looking to hire. But if the state of the economy is weak... (if they are) unable to find jobs, they may decide to go back."

More than 33,000 people in Singapore have been infected with the coronavirus, the majority of whom are foreign workers living in dormitories. Many live in crowded spaces, and rights groups have called on the authorities to improve their living conditions.

Plans to improve the living conditions of foreign workers remain a work in progress, Mr Wong said.

"We are certainly in the process of looking at building new dormitories for migrant workers, and these new dormitories will be built quite soon," he said, adding that these new spaces could have a lower density of occupants.

Dormitories in Singapore have been designed for communal living, with shared facilities, but "in this new environment, we will have to design (them) in a very different manner", he added.

"We are getting designers, architects (to think) about how the new dormitories can be designed for the well-being of migrant workers, but also to ensure that the infection controls are raised to a much higher level."

New facilities will be built to house migrant workers who are mildly ill or no longer infectious, the Manpower Ministry said earlier this month, adding that many of these spaces will be in dormitories most severely affected by the outbreak.

New dormitories will also be constructed to house some of the healthy and recovered workers.

Toh Wen Li

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Job security of migrant workers depends on employers. Subscribe