Restrictions on migrant workers being gradually eased

Mr Tung Yui Fai, chief of the Assurance, Care and Engagement (Ace) Group under the Ministry Of Manpower, at Chye Heng Huat Engineering's factory-converted dormitory yesterday. Ace Group is working with its partners on the issue of new housing standar
Mr Tung Yui Fai, chief of the Assurance, Care and Engagement (Ace) Group under the Ministry Of Manpower, at Chye Heng Huat Engineering's factory-converted dormitory yesterday. Ace Group is working with its partners on the issue of new housing standards for migrant workers. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

Migrant workers from approved dormitories can now use communal cooking facilities to whip up their own food on rest days, on top of receiving regular catered meals from their employers on work days.

They can also use recreational facilities such as gyms and basketball courts, as long as the dormitory operators have been given the green light for them to do so.

This easing of restrictions began last month and is part of a calibrated approach being taken by the authorities.

The reason is that the threat of Covid-19 cases resurfacing in the dorms has not gone away, said the chief of the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) Assurance, Care and Engagement (Ace) Group, Mr Tung Yui Fai, yesterday.

"We still need to keep an eye on the pandemic," he said.

The restrictions on the more than 300,000 workers living in dormitories were introduced following a surge in Covid-19 cases in the dorms in April.

Despite the latest changes, the workers are still largely required to stay in their dorms except when they are going to work or running essential errands.

On rest days, however, they can visit specified recreation centres.

Mr Tung said: "When it comes to migrant workers going back to the community for activities, I think that over time, we will get there, we will push for it. But first of all, the conditions must be right." He did not specify a timeframe for this.

One of the conditions will be for contact tracing to be carried out effectively, which means that all migrant workers have to be equipped with, and adopt the use of, a contact tracing device.

The devices that will be used by migrant workers living or working in dorms, or who are in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors, are called BluePass tokens.

These tokens, which are now being distributed to the workers, are compatible with the TraceTogether token or app, which means they can exchange information with one another.

Mr Tung, 56, a former brigadier-general in the Singapore Armed Forces, said the mission of the Ace Group, a new MOM division that has taken over the work of the inter-agency task force in charge of migrant worker welfare in dorms, will continue beyond the pandemic.

Ace Group officers are MOM's eyes and ears on the ground.

They flag potential issues and collect feedback from groups, including workers and employers, while helping to identify and anticipate what contingency plans need to be in place for a future crisis, be it a health or any other crisis.

The group, whose staff strength exceeds 1,000, will also engage stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations that are keen to work with it.

Mr Tung said the deployment of the Forward Assurance and Support Teams (Fast) to work with dorm operators to respond quickly to the workers' essential needs has proven to be useful and effective.

One area that Ace Group is working on with its partners is the issue of new housing standards for migrant workers.

They are being piloted at the new Quick Build Dormitories that form part of the short-to medium-term housing for migrant workers. Among other things, each resident will have 6 sq m of living space, compared with 4.5 sq m before.

Ace has received feedback from dorm operators that they may need extra help to meet the new standards, including financial aid or a lease extension for their dorms.

Support measures for the operators will be unveiled when new housing requirements for migrant workers are announced next year, Mr Tung said.

"Having Fast teams on the ground to do engagements directly, understanding the challenges... will help shape our policymaking in a more holistic manner."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2020, with the headline 'Restrictions on migrant workers being gradually eased'. Subscribe