Social Issues

Tommy Koh Says Treatment Of Foreign Workers Is Third-World, Urges S’poreans To Treat Them Better

MOM & Dorm Operators Step Up Cleaning, Distancing After Appalling Conditions

Following Covid-19 outbreaks in several migrant worker dormitories around Singapore, the government made over 20,000 workers stay inside for 14 days starting Saturday (4 Apr).

However, with so many workers indoors, sanitisation has gone down drastically, and The Straits Times (ST) reported on the awful conditions at dorms since Saturday.

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Former diplomat Tommy Koh also lambasted the conditions there, but placed the blame squarely on employers.

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Describing how the government is complicit in allowing employers to cram them like sardines and deny them proper seats in trucks, he heaped scorn on Singapore for enabling this behaviour.

Appalling dormitories were “time bomb waiting to explode”

Mr Koh didn’t mince his words, immediately calling our treatment of foreign workers “Third World”.

If these overcrowded dorms weren’t sanitary before, they surely aren’t now.

There are pictures of dorm workers with numerous mosquito bites on their feet

This could mean the presence of mosquito nests from stagnant water.

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Conditions at S11 dormitory in Punggol had deteriorated rapidly, with garbage strewn around and workers not distancing themselves amid the crowded environment.

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And due to the overcrowding and lack of social distancing, there is now a Covid-19 epidemic within these ecosystems.

MOM acknowledges bad dorm conditions, working with management

Since the report, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has been working with dorm operators, according to ST.

Stepping up cleaning and distancing workers on Monday (6 Apr), operators belatedly set to improve living conditions.

Per the report, the S11 dormitory in particular was last inspected on 4 Mar. It passed the cleanliness test then.

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So perhaps the deterioration of dorm conditions is due to quarantine measures.

Regardless, there are many issues with foreign workers to be solved, ones which Mr Koh highlighted. Singaporean employers are also to blame for this.

Covid-19 put foreign workers’ treatment in the spotlight

For better or worse, the living conditions of migrant workers are now in the spotlight thanks to Covid-19.

Given the lack of social distancing even after the virus landed on our shores in January, it definitely was a time bomb waiting to explode.

Now that Singaporeans are conscious of how these people who build our buildings and keep the country running, we need to take the next step.

We must pressure those in power to make living conditions and wages better. Errant dorm operators need to be put in line, and we need to treat our guest workers here a lot better.

After all, how we treat them reflects on us more than our nice buildings and standard of living. Foreign workers are human too.

Featured image adapted from Google Maps and Facebook.

Jonathan Yee

Jonathan hates maths but is in love with math rock. He also insists that the term is 'esports' and not 'e-sports'.

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