SINGAPORE: Newly arrived migrant workers will soon be housed in centres where they will complete their stay-home notice, medical examination and orientation programme all at once.
Called the Migrant Worker Onboarding Centre, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday (Mar 3) the new facilities will help reduce the transmission risk from imported COVID-19 cases to the community “while helping these new workers to settle in better”.
The process, which starts on Mar 15, applies to workers entering the construction, marine and process sectors from “higher-risk” regions that include India and Bangladesh, where many of the workers are from.
READ: IN FOCUS: The long, challenging journey to bring COVID-19 under control in migrant worker dormitories
Under the new arrangement, workers will serve their stay-home notice for a few days at hotels as they wait for the results of their on-arrival tests. Workers who clear these tests will move to the onboarding centres to serve their remaining quarantine period and complete their onboarding requirements under one roof.
The Migrant Worker Onboarding Centre will be piloted at five quick build dormitories in Punggol, Eunos, Choa Chu Kang and two at Tengah.
Currently, newly arrived migrant workers need to serve a 14-day stay-home notice at hotels before they move to a designated facility for the additional 7-day stay-home notice. Only after do they complete serving their stay-home notice can they leave the designated facilities and undergo their medical examination and their settling-in programme.
READ: COVID-19: New migrant worker dorms step in the right direction, say support groups - but could more be done?
The onboarding process comprises both an “enhanced” medical examination and “residential” settling-in programme, MOM said in a press release.
The revised medical examination includes “detailed” record taking of medical history, and screening for chronic diseases for older workers or those with health risk factors.
“This will enable early identification of health risks and aid effective downstream patient care,” MOM said.
The medical examination form currently available on the ministry’s webpage on foreign worker medical examinations includes checking the worker’s medical history, for specific clinical abnormalities, and whether the worker is fit to work.
The website added that the assessment screens the worker for four types of infectious diseases: Tuberculosis, HIV, syphilis and malaria.
The residential settling-in programme is an “expansion” of the existing scheme, MOM said.
“Apart from learning about their employment rights and Singapore’s social norms, it also serves to inculcate appropriate health-seeking behavior, good hygiene habits, and good dormitory living and worksite practices.”
MOM added that the new system “brings together various entry processes as one efficient, integrated, and seamless end-to-end process”.
“For employers, this means greater convenience. For the workers, they will be able to start their employment in Singapore on the right footing,” it said.
“As the MWOC is a pilot, we will continually tweak our measures and processes to safeguard public health and benefit employers and workers.
EXPANDING THE FOREIGN EMPLOYEE DORMITORIES ACT
In his Committee of Supply speech in Parliament on Wednesday, Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said the Government might extend the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act to all dormitories.
Currently, the Act only covers dormitories that house 1,000 or more workers.
About 60 per cent of 280,000 migrant workers stay in such dormitories, in which there are around 50 in Singapore. The rest stay in smaller facilities such as factory-converted dormitories and temporary housing on construction sites.
“Our experience in containing COVID-19 in the dorms highlighted the need to strengthen our regulatory levers in order to enable us to raise and enforce housing standards very quickly across the various dormitory types and sizes, and to introduce new housing standards to make dormitory living more resilient to public health risks,” Mr Tan said.
Currently, all dormitories - regardless of the Act - are subjected to regulatory requirements set by various government agencies in areas such as building and fire safety, minimum living and hygiene standards.
The Act imposes additional conditions including ones on public health and safety, security and public order, and provision of social and commercial amenities.
More details will likely be provided in the second half of this year, Mr Tan said.
The Government is also reviewing foreign workers' medical insurance coverage and will give an update later year, he added. It is also looking to finalise better dormitory standards by the end of this year.
In response to Workers’ Party chief’s Pritam Singh’s question on the number of migrant workers who were underpaid, and details of restitution made, Mr Tan said that between 2015 and 2019, 950 employers were caught for not paying the foreign employees their monthly salary or inflating the salaries with no intention of paying them the amount.
About 1,400 foreign employees were affected in these cases.
For not paying the salaries that are due to foreign employees, employers face up to 1 years’ jail and S$10,000 fine under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. They must also make full salary restitution to their employees.
Mr Tan said one way to reduce salary underpayment is by paying workers electronically.
As of January of this year, more than 97 per cent of employers pay their migrant workers living in dormitories electronically, he said.
For the rest, the ministry is in talks with tripartite partners to extend requirements for electronic payments to more workers, including locals and work permit holders who are not living in dormitories.