Coronavirus: We will look after you, ministry assures foreign workers

They will also get virtual counselling, as MOM looks to better coordinate efforts with NGOs

Migrant workers who are residents of Jurong Penjuru Dormitory 1 queueing to collect food yesterday. The dormitory is among those with a cluster of Covid-19 cases. Medical posts are being set up at all 43 purpose-built dormitories and other locations,
Migrant workers who are residents of Jurong Penjuru Dormitory 1 queueing to collect food yesterday. The dormitory is among those with a cluster of Covid-19 cases. Medical posts are being set up at all 43 purpose-built dormitories and other locations, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday. Nearby clinics may also serve as medical posts for some dormitories.ST PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID
NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng helping to prepare care packs for migrant workers in factory-converted dormitories yesterday.
NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng helping to prepare care packs for migrant workers in factory-converted dormitories yesterday.ST PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID

The inter-agency task force will be working more closely with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help migrant workers who have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Set up earlier this month to provide support to foreign workers and dormitory operators, the task force has been partnering the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) to assist foreign workers, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement on Friday.

For instance, more than 5,000 foreign worker ambassadors from MWC have been tapped to disseminate information to foreign workers and relay their feedback.

"The task force recognises the potential contributions of NGOs and deeply appreciates their cooperation. We have started to coordinate efforts with NGOs that have voluntarily stepped forward," said MOM.

The task force is also working with NGOs such as the Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach, Itsrainingraincoats, Geylang Adventures and Crisis Relief Alliance to reach out to more foreign workers.

Besides catering to the workers' daily needs, the task force is working with charity HealthServe to provide free virtual counselling sessions by 69 volunteers.

Trial sessions are ongoing at Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory, with plans to offer the service to more dormitories progressively.

Government agencies are also ramping up efforts to communicate with migrant workers.

In a video posted on Facebook yesterday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo urged migrant workers to see a doctor if they are unwell, stay in their rooms, keep in touch with others through the Wi-Fi and data SIM cards they have been provided with, and maintain personal hygiene.

Medical posts are being set up at all 43 purpose-built dormitories and other locations, she added. Nearby clinics may serve as medical posts for some dormitories.

"Anyone who is tested positive will be taken care of. We will help you to recover. In fact, many of the workers we have treated have fully recovered," she said in the video, which has subtitles in Tamil and Bengali.

The public health sector, with help from the Singapore Armed Forces, is using another video with versions in Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Chinese and English to advise workers on what they can do to protect themselves from the coronavirus, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Facebook.

The video by SingHealth assured workers that the Government will pay for their hospital costs related to Covid-19, that their employers will continue to pay their salaries, and that they will not lose their jobs.

 
 
 
 

Bangladeshi national Ahmed Amad, 31, said his colleagues and friends were initially worried about losing their livelihoods due to the pandemic, but their fears have since been alleviated by their employers and the authorities.

"Now everyone is more at ease," said Mr Ahmed, a safety professional in the construction sector.

However, some feel that more can be done to help foreign workers.

Although migrant workers have been provided with data SIM cards, these hardly cover calls and text messages, which are their main method to communicate with their loved ones back home, said TWC2 general manager Ethan Guo.

TWC2 started a fund-raising campaign on April 5 to top up migrant workers' pre-paid SIM cards. The campaign has raised about $170,000, but this is still not enough to meet workers' demand for such SIM cards, he added.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mrs Teo highlighted the importance of coordinating government and NGO efforts.

Uncoordinated actions risk the integrity of ground operations and can result in wasted resources, such as perishable food items that are not distributed in time, she said.

"There is also the need to protect the health and safety of these volunteers," she added, urging all interested parties to be patient and understanding, and to work through the task force to meet workers' needs.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 19, 2020, with the headline 'We will look after you, ministry assures foreign workers'. Subscribe