Coronavirus: Worker ambassadors help Migrant Worker Centre fight fake news

Bangladeshi Shafikul Islam (left), 31, and Indian K. Deivasigamani, 35, are two of Migrant Workers’ Centre foreign worker ambassadors who help to disseminate accurate information on the ground in a timely manner. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Some panicked after mistaking the number of discharged coronavirus cases for the death toll. Others read reports that their home countries would be banning travellers from Singapore and tried to quit their jobs in a fluster.

With fake news spreading faster than the coronavirus itself among foreign workers, the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) has been relying on its network of volunteers who are also workers themselves to disseminate accurate information on the ground in a timely manner.

MWC executive director Bernard Menon recalled the flurry of calls from panicked Bangladeshi workers wanting to go home, after the 42nd case of Covid-19, a 39-year-old Bangladeshi worker, was announced last month.

"There was a need for somebody that's close to the migrant worker ground to quickly get in touch with the people and send out key messages," he said.

The centre's core team has about 25 people. But it has some 5,000 foreign worker ambassadors who can potentially reach up to 125,000 people a day by MWC's own analysis.

One ambassador is Mr K. Deivasigamani, 35, from Tamil Nadu, India. He has been in Singapore for nearly nine years and currently works at a reclamation site in Tuas.

The six-year MWC ambassador forwards government advisories and accurate information to his WhatsApp groups that include his work site colleagues and other foreign workers at a temple where he volunteers - reaching hundreds of his peers.

"I tell them not to be scared, and explain the situation to them. I tell them to wash their hands with soap," said the father of two.

The connection also goes the other way - he gives feedback on issues and questions from the ground to his supervisor, who checks in with MWC and the Manpower Ministry (MOM) for responses.

Another migrant worker ambassador is Mr Shafikul Islam, from Dhaka, Bangladesh, who works as a manager in the marine sector. The 31-year-old has been in Singapore for six years and started volunteering for MWC last year.

Following Case 42, many of his fellow Bangladeshis were worried, he told The Straits Times.

"Many people were confused. So I talked to them, I told them, 'No problem, (in) Singapore you can go to hospital anytime, the government will take care (of you)'," he said.

Workers living at CDPL (Tuas) Dormitory pass a thermal scanner as they return from work on Feb 5, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Both the ambassadors shared that the situation on the ground is much calmer now with regard to the coronavirus.

Mr Menon said MWC also conducts briefings in the mornings and evenings at the dormitories, where volunteers take questions in the workers' different native languages.

They also encourage workers to sign up to the WhatsApp channel in their preferred language to get updates.

For now, life mostly goes on as normal. While Mr Deivasigamani tries to work as much as possible on Sundays, to earn more pay, Mr Shafikul spends his day off at Mustafa Centre, the well-known department store in Little India.

"Migrant workers make up a quarter of the workforce and a fifth of the population," said Mr Menon.

"There's no way you can protect Singaporeans if you don't protect migrant workers too."

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