MOM to embark on multi-year road map to build more resilient migrant workforce: Tan See Leng

Another facet of MOM's plans is the reintegration of migrant workers into the community through the safe and measured easing of movement restrictions. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Housing standards for migrant workers here will be raised, possibly as soon as next year, as the authorities are set to strengthen laws so that all dormitories regardless of size have to meet the same minimum standards.

Existing dorms will also be put on a timeline to meet improved standards on living space and common facilities, with more dialogue sessions on this slated for early next year.

This is part of a multi-year road map by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to build a more resilient migrant workforce.

The ministry will also redouble its efforts to provide quality, accessible, seamless and affordable healthcare for migrant workers here and enhance their social well-being by improving recreation centres and beefing up community outreach.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng laid out these plans in a media interview on Thursday (Dec 16) as he sketched out a vision of the future for the migrant workforce here.

Speaking to reporters ahead of International Migrants Day on Saturday (Dec 18), Dr Tan described an operating model that would provide support for workers before they enter Singapore until they return home for good.

This operating model will be a constantly improving one, he added, and the next few years will see MOM executing the design principles it has put in place in the wake of Covid-19, Dr Tan said.

Another facet of MOM's plans is the reintegration of migrant workers into the community through the safe and measured easing of movement restrictions. But on this point, Dr Tan was more circumspect.

While 98 per cent of migrant workers are fully vaccinated and 88 per cent of those eligible for a booster shot have taken the additional jab, Dr Tan reiterated the need to find a "safe window" to further ease measures, especially in light of the new Omicron variant.

"We should not couch our policies with regards to easing based on feel," he said.

"We have to base it on studies, we have to base it on real data."

He added: "We still need to have data when it comes to how we respond and how our immune systems and our defences will behave (to the new variant)... Would you rather that I commit without knowing these things? I don't think that it will be tenable."

During the hour-long interview, Dr Tan listed the many milestones that MOM has crossed over the past year - from the improved standards for new dormitories, to the reshaping of the primary healthcare system for migrant workers, to the mental health support task force that was set up.

He likened these efforts to laying the foundations for a building, and the next step is to build the walls and roof, he said.

"The challenge is to make sure that we are able to carry the stakeholders along with us because these are fairly bold and fairly strong moves moving forward."

Dr Tan called for continued support from the private sector, non-governmental organisations and volunteers, as well as philanthropies.

"While the Government has spearheaded these efforts, a whole-of-society effort is needed to ensure the well-being of our migrant workers," he said.

On housing standards specifically, Dr Tan said MOM is still studying how wide the gap is between the improved standards and current conditions at existing dorms.

"I am not close to seeing how we can try to support these dorm operators to achieve the desired state... It will not be a one-step thing," Dr Tan said, adding that there will be a clearer picture when Budget 2022 is debated in Parliament.

On the mental health front, Dr Tan said MOM is exploring whether counselling services could be outsourced to the migrant workers' home countries so there is better cultural understanding.

On the mental health front, MOM is exploring whether counselling services could be outsourced to the migrant workers' home countries so there is better cultural understanding. PHOTO: ST FILE

"If you have someone from your home country or hometown, I think half the battle is won," he said.

MOM is also ramping up the development of migrant worker onboarding centres, which were set up in March to integrate Covid-19 quarantine services, enhanced medical examinations and a settling-in programme for new workers.

A sixth centre in Sengkang opened earlier this week (Dec 15), bringing the total capacity at these centres to 12,000 bed spaces.

Echoing a speech that he gave during the Budget debate in March about transforming the migrant worker landscape here when he was still Second Minister for Manpower, Dr Tan said: "This journey is just beginning."

"If anything at all, this pandemic has nudged us and, in fact, showcased that there are many measures we potentially could have thought of, or could think about," he added.

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