Kayaking, cricket and cheer as foreign workers mark International Migrants Day in S'pore

Migrant workers from Tampines Dormitory and private residences around Little India and Outram paddling around the Marina Reservoir in kayaks on Dec 18. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Migrant workers from Tampines Dormitory and private residences around Little India and Outram paddling around the Marina Reservoir in kayaks on Dec 18. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Participants competing in a futsal tournament at Kranji Recreation Centre, one of eight migrant worker recreation centres, on Dec 18, 2021. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Migrant workers on a sightseeing tour through Orchard Road, on Dec 18, 2021. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - From cricket and futsal to kayaking, migrant workers here took part in a myriad of activities on Saturday (Dec 18) to celebrate International Migrants Day.

Over the past week, dormitory operators, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and volunteer groups have been distributing care packs, organising excursions and hosting physical and online activities to mark the occasion.

This culminated in a slew of events held over the weekend.

Despite the spectre of Covid-19 still looming large, the eight migrant worker recreation centres across the island were bustling as workers took part in sports competitions, collected freebies, dug into sponsored meals and enjoyed live performances.

Safety supervisor John Peter, who lives in temporary quarters at a construction site, was all smiles as he met up with friends for the first time in more than a year at the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) recreation centre in Soon Lee Road.

"Today is International Migrants Day. It is my day and I enjoyed it with my friends," the Indian national, 30, said.

Mr Tung Yui Fai, chief of the Ministry of Manpower's Assurance, Care and Engagement Group, said the celebrations this week took about two months to plan.

"This year in particular, we made an effort to try to have many activities not just in the recreation centres, but also in the dormitories and in the community," he said.

Earlier in the day, 44 migrant workers from Tampines Dormitory and private residences around Little India and Outram were joined by Tampines Changkat residents as they paddled around Marina Reservoir in kayaks, picking up marine litter in the process.

At The Cage in Turf City, teams from six dormitories operated by Westlite Accommodation duked it out in a charity cricket tournament that helped to raise funds for migrant worker NGO HealthServe.

At The Cage in Turf City, teams from six dormitories operated by Westlite Accommodation duked it out in a charity cricket tournament. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

In conjunction with Saturday's celebrations, MWC, which is under the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), launched a digital associate membership scheme, which it said will bring migrant workers even closer to the labour movement and help to close some gaps, such as a lack of critical illness insurance for these workers.

At the same event held at the MWC recreation centre, NTUC FairPrice donated $1.8 million worth of hand sanitiser, canned food, vitamins and supplements to the Dormitory Association of Singapore.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng speaking to a migrant worker during an event at the MWC recreation centre on Dec 18, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Benefits under the new MWC digital membership will be delivered via a web app and workers can expect to save more than $400 for each year they are a member.

Migrant workers who sign up will be covered by a group term life and critical illness insurance plan underwritten by NTUC Income, and get to enjoy discounts and special rates for relevant NTUC training courses, telco services from Singtel, employment agency services from Aptiv8, and general practitioner consultations by Raffles Medical.

Registration for the membership will start in the first quarter of next year and the aim is for 100,000 migrant workers to sign up by end-2022.

MWC said it will first target new workers undergoing their settling-in programme before reaching out to other workers.

To encourage more sign-ups, MWC will subsidise more than half the membership fee for the first year so workers will need to pay only $6.

They will need to pay $24 a year subsequently.

For new workers, membership for the first six months will be free and they can pay the $6 fee if they wish to keep the membership for the rest of the first year.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said the new membership scheme reflects NTUC's continued commitment to helping migrant workers.

"It is certainly an innovation in NTUC's approach, where every worker matters. (We are) now embracing the migrant workers fully into the family," he said.

MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said the pandemic has forced MWC to change the way it communicates and connects with workers. The associate membership web app, which has a chat function, provides an avenue for MWC to better engage with workers.

For Bangladeshi shipyard worker Hossain Imam, 28, International Migrants Day was a chance for him to give back to those who supported him in the past two years.

At Terusan Recreation Centre, volunteers were treated to mutton curry, prawns and fresh fruits, a spread which Mr Imam started preparing from 7am on Saturday.

He said: "Before Covid-19, I had no Singapore friends, now I have so many. My mind is fresh because there are people calling me and talking to me.

"I'm so happy to cook for them."

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