Huge task to get meals to thousands of workers: Minister

Foreign workers queueing up to collect their food and drinks at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol on April 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Getting meals to thousands of foreign workers in dormitories was a huge undertaking, particularly in the initial period, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday when he addressed the criticism levelled at the food they were given.

Many photos and posts have been circulating online in recent weeks as people, including Singaporeans, took to social media to discuss the well-being of migrant workers.

Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the task force fighting the coronavirus, said that when safe distancing measures were implemented, these workers were no longer able to cook for themselves - something they were used to.

"So, the exercise of ramping up the catering to provide for workers, not only in the dormitories, but in the care facilities as well, has been a huge undertaking."

But he has since received feedback from workers, who say the quality of food has improved and many of the initial issues raised have been addressed by the caterers, the minister added.

The inter-agency task force is also mindful that in the month of Ramadan, some changes are necessary to cater to the needs of the Muslim residents who are fasting.

"We need to make some adjustments, like providing bigger portions... (and) something suitable when they break fast."

He added that they could also look into providing something to eat early in the morning, before the workers start fasting.

The caterers and the teams on the ground are very mindful of these issues, and they have been continually making adjustments in response to feedback from the workers, the minister said.

Beyond food, many people have also expressed concern for the mental well-being of migrant workers, who are required to stay indoors all the time as their dorms are deemed to be isolation facilities because of the level of infection.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said his ministry is aware of the stress levels of these isolated workers and their concerns.

His ministry has assigned people to meet and counsel them, as well as provided hotlines for them to call, should they need any assistance.

"We also have ambassadors that will engage and reach out to them to have a better understanding of their mental concerns," he said.

"And should they have any issues, they are encouraged to reach out and contact us through the hotlines, and we will address their mental issues, if any."

This article has been edited for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2020, with the headline Huge task to get meals to thousands of workers: Minister. Subscribe