Singapore firms rush to house Malaysian workers before COVID-19 travel restrictions kick in

Singapore firms rush to house Malaysian workers before COVID-19 travel restrictions kick in

Companies are rushing to secure accommodation for Malaysian workers who commute daily to Singapore before Malaysia's two-week-long travel restrictions kick in on Wednesday (Mar 18). Rachel Phua reports.

SINGAPORE: Companies are rushing to secure accommodation for Malaysian workers who commute daily to Singapore before Malaysia's two-week-long travel restrictions kick in on Wednesday (Mar 18). 

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Monday that the government will implement a movement control order from Mar 18 to Mar 31 in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Under the order, all Malaysians are barred from travelling abroad, including around 300,000 Malaysians who travel across the Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link every day for work. 

Malaysian returning from overseas will need to undergo a health inspection and be placed under a 14-day self-quarantine.

Foreigners are also barred from entering Malaysia during this period. 

READ: Amidst uncertainty over restricted movement order, Malaysians working in Singapore look to temporary housing

Singapore transport engineering firm Wong Fong Engineering said that 34 of its 290 employees who work at their Tuas and Joo Koon facilities will be affected by the restrictions, impacting several functions across finance, engineering and manufacturing.

Supply chain disruptions and delayed deliveries that began when the coronavirus first emerged earlier this year will be further impacted, said the firm's chief financial officer Jack Wong.  

The company said 12 of its workers are staying with colleagues, while beds have been secured at Tuas View Dormitory for an additional 12. The rest said they would make their own lodging arrangements, the company told CNA. 

Josephine Teo manufacturing scheme COVID-19
Josephine Teo visiting a transport manufacturing company Wong Fong Engineering Works on Tuesday (Feb 25). (Photo: Rachel Phua)

At TranZplus Engineering, chief executive Nelson Lim and his senior management team met three Malaysian employees to decide on the steps to be taken ahead of the midnight deadline.

Due to family obligations, two of the employees - administrative staff in the sales department - will return to Johor and remain there. Their work will be taken on by their teammates in the human resource department. Mr Lim said he plans to pay them half of their salary during this time so that they will still have some cash flowing in. 

He called one dormitory to enquire about housing the third employee, a customer service officer. He decided to put her up in his home instead after the dormitory said it could only offer a room housing six workers for S$2,200 a month with a minimum lease of three months. 

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Ng Chee Meng told reporters on Tuesday that about 1,300 affected Malaysian employees of supermarket chain NTUC Fairprice would be given free accommodation and some allowance to help with daily necessities. 

For Malaysian workers who are unable to stay in Singapore, Mr Ng called on their companies to be understanding of their circumstances, for example by allowing them to take their annual leave during this time.

Dormitory operator Centurion Corporation said more than 700 Malaysian residents had made bookings to stay in its dormitories as of 3pm on Tuesday. More are expected, said chief executive Kong Chee Min.

(rp) Westlite foreign dormitory beds
The rooms inside Centurion Corporation's Westlite dormitories. (Photo: Centurion Corporation).

Centurion Corporation operates five dormitories with a total capacity of 28,000 beds.

But Mr Kong said that there is little spare capacity as they are operating at close to full occupancy and have also had to set aside quarantine and Stay-Home Notice isolation facilities.

The company is currently working with the authorities to temporarily re-purpose certain common spaces as living apartments to increase bed capacity during this period.

This will give them more than 5,000 additional bed spaces, he said. About 300 will be set apart for female residents. 

(rp)Westlite foreign dormitory exterior building
The Westlite Toh Guan building. (Photo: Centurion Corporation).

As for cost, Mr Kong said that they will waive the usual long-term lease requirements and charge close to normal rates for short stays, “despite significant additional costs incurred in preparing, fitting out and managing these special bed provisions”.  

He declined to say how much they charge, but pointed out that the market rate for a two weeks' stay ranges from about S$210 to S$300, and S$400 to S$600 for a month. 

At the multi-ministerial task force press conference on Tuesday evening, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the authorities have matched more than 10,000 workers to accommodation providers so far, adding that housing a worker at a dormitory should cost about S$35 a day.

"For every affected worker, we will provide the firms with the support of S$50 a night for 14 nights," she said.

The ministry has also released a list of hotels and dormitories companies can refer to for options. These include Fragrance Hotel Rose, the Ibis budget hotels and dormitories operated by Teambuild Engineering & Construction.

(rp)Malaysian lockdown MOM screenshot accommodation
A screenshot of the webpage on the Ministry of Manpower's website showing the suggested accommodation options during the lockdown in Malaysia. 

A customer service officer from the Fragrance hotel chain told CNA that he had been “answering enquiries” throughout the day but declined to reveal more. 

Though not on the list, the Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel has received bookings for more than 80 rooms for the duration of two weeks, said general manager Patrick Fiat. 

Most of the companies are from the technology industry, he added.

Two hundred rooms are still available and he expects more to be taken up before the end of the day.  

READ: Companies affected by Malaysia travel restrictions to receive S$50 allowance per worker for 14 nights

The hotel itself has 43 employees in departments such as housekeeping and the front office, who will be affected by the restrictions.  

Eighteen of the employees will be staying in Singapore during the lockdown and accommodation will be provided for them at the hotel, while the rest of the employees have chosen to stay with their families.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan wrote that there are ”a number" of Singapore's bus captains and technicians who are Malaysians and commute from Johor to work in Singapore.

Public transport operators like SBS Transit and SMRT have secured sufficient hotel accommodation for those who are planning to continue working and staying in Singapore, he said. 

In a separate Facebook post, NTUC assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong said that more than 2,500 of these workers have found accommodation. 

They will also be given a daily allowance to defray some of the unexpected living expenses that they might incur, said Mr Yong, who is also the National Transport Workers' Union executive secretary.

Fortunately, for water supplier Wanin Industries, none of its workers at their Singapore plant come in from Malaysia every day. But the company has other concerns right now.

They are unsure if  their seven Malaysian drivers who transport the cartons of water into Singapore from a factory in Johor will be able to come in, or whether as a food supplier, their operations in Malaysia will be allowed to continue given the lockdown, said its head of special projects, Eugene Tan. 

Wanin Industries, which supplies water products to supermarkets and airlines in Singapore, doubled its deliveries into Singapore today from 50,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles to ensure they have enough stock here, Mr Tan said. 

Singapore Manufacturing Federation’s (SMF) president Douglas Foo said that the group has been regularly sending updates to its members since the announcement of the lockdown, and contacting dormitories to help members find available accommodation.  

A SMF member is also consolidating a list based on inputs from other members of the critical raw materials needed for the next two weeks, he said. This list will be sent to officials from Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

-Additional reporting by Zhaki Abdullah.

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Source: CNA/rp(hs)

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