Coronavirus: Singapore to take care of foreign workers

MOM working with other agencies to address worries about their livelihood, welfare: Iswaran

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran (far right) speaking to migrant workers to assuage their concerns at Westlite Papan dormitory in Jurong yesterday. With him are (from left) Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, Bukit Bato
Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran (far right) speaking to migrant workers to assuage their concerns at Westlite Papan dormitory in Jurong yesterday. With him are (from left) Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai and India's High Commissioner to Singapore Jawed Ashraf. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The livelihood of foreign workers will be taken care of, as Singapore ramps up measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran yesterday.

Speaking to reporters after a 30-minute dialogue with foreign workers at a dormitory in Jurong, Mr Iswaran said the Government's top concern is their health and well-being, along with that of Singapore residents.

"The second thing is that they have concerns around their livelihood, as well as their welfare, and these are things that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is working with other government agencies, as well as the dormitory authorities to address.

"We want to assure the workers that we are doing our best to address these concerns, and ensure that they are able to navigate this period of closure with some level of peace of mind."

He spoke with about 50 workers from Westlite Papan dormitory in an engagement session, which was also attended by Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

The session was planned to assuage workers' concerns due to the shutting down of most workplaces from Tuesday to May 4. Some of them might have to suspend work due to these restrictions.

More than 7,000 residents live in the Westlite Papan dormitory.

Dormitories have been a growing concern in this outbreak, with three of the four new clusters announced by the Ministry of Health yesterday being dormitories - Sungei Tengah Lodge, Toh Guan Dormitory and Cochrane Lodge II.

This is in addition to several other clusters that have been previously identified, such as Westlite Toh Guan dormitory, which now has 18 confirmed cases.

On Friday, the Government announced its tightest measures to date to stem the spike in local Covid-19 cases.

Among them was the closure of workplaces, other than those in key economic sectors and essential services, from Tuesday to May 4.

Speaking in Tamil and English, Mr Iswaran said during the dialogue that the latest measures aim to minimise human interaction to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Yesterday, the workers asked questions about whether they may lose their jobs as a result of this pandemic, if other workers who are overseas can return to Singapore to work, and how they can help in the national effort to fight the virus.

Asked by a reporter whether foreign workers were worried that more clusters could emerge in dormitories and construction sites, Mr Iswaran said: "I think anxiety is inevitable. Wherever these clusters emerge, I think there's anxiety.

"That is why we have a very clear protocol on how to manage them. First, in identifying the source during the contact tracing, and then taking other appropriate measures, whether it is quarantine orders, closing down the relevant area for thorough cleaning et cetera."

He appealed to everyone - Singaporeans, permanent residents and foreign workers - to cooperate with the latest measures.

Mr Kong Chee Min, chief executive of Centurion Cooperation which manages Westlite Papan, said that they have been reviewing their measures every day, including distributing disinfectants and putting up educational materials.

He said that MOM had discussed with them about stricter measures that will soon be implemented.

"They have been preparing us ahead of time, so it helps us in terms of planning, including catering of food, delivering it to the workers, having Wi-Fi in the rooms, and managing the flow of workers, so that they are not always being cooped up in the rooms," said Mr Kong.

Mr Mohammad Abu Rahad, 28, a process maintenance worker who lives at the Westlite Papan dormitory and was at the dialogue, told reporters that it is sometimes impossible to practise safe distancing when there are 16 people living in the same room.

"Of course we are concerned that the virus can spread here, but it cannot be helped. What we can do by ourselves is maybe to have people go for meals in smaller groups, or at different timings," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 05, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore to take care of foreign workers'. Subscribe