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Delays in moving out COVID-19 cases, quality of meals among issues raised by workers at Jalan Tukang dormitory

Delays in moving out COVID-19 cases, quality of meals among issues raised by workers at Jalan Tukang dormitory

Representatives from the Migrant Workers' Centre and the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union speak to a resident at Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory on Oct 15, 2021. (Photo: Migrant Workers' Centre)

SINGAPORE: Migrant workers living at Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory raised issues with delays in moving out confirmed COVID-19 cases and the quality of catered meals during a visit by the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) on Friday (Oct 15).

Staff from MWC, accompanied by representatives from the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union, visited the dormitory to engage with residents and confirm that the issues they raised were being addressed, said MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang on Wednesday in a media statement.

MWC also checked on the workers’ “physical and emotional state” and offered assistance in resolving “any other lingering or new employment or well-being related issues that they may have”, it said, adding that it spoke with nearly 200 workers during the visit.

MWC is a bipartite initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers’ Federation (SNEF).

DELAYS IN TRANSFER OF CONFIRMED CASES

Last week, CNA reported that riot police had been deployed to the dormitory at Jurong, following claims about delays in transferring COVID-19 cases, a lack of access to medical support and that catered food at the dormitory in Jurong was of poor quality.

“We were able to learn that most of their concerns regarding newly implemented Safe Management Measures (SMM) and COVID-19 testing and isolation protocols had been resolved within a day after their plight was covered on local media,” MWC said on Wednesday.

There had been “some disorder over the rollout of new testing and isolation protocols” up until Oct 13, it added.

Issues with logistics and resources in the transfer process, as well as a spike in infections, also contributed to delays in moving confirmed COVID-19 cases to off-site care and recovery facilities.

However, residents "confirmed" that authorities "promptly" resolved the situation by working with the dormitory operator and employers to address the delays and “bring order and stability back to the dormitory”, MWC said.

“They also told us that since the improvements were made, the transfer process for COVID-positive cases had become more timely, and they hoped that the smoother process would continue.”

MWC said it had also found that some workers “did not understand the reasons and strategy behind the new SMM, testing and isolation protocols, which might have contributed to the confusion and disorder prior to Oct 13”.

MWC said it had given feedback to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and was "working urgently" with the ministry to step up communication and engagement, as well as to distribute educational materials through the MWC ambassador network and social media channels. These materials will be distributed in print and video and translated to workers’ native languages.

It added that it was monitoring the situation and would raise any other irregularities or delays immediately to the ministry.

FOOD QUALITY ISSUES

Regarding the issue of catered food, MWC said it had been “unable to meet anyone who claimed that the food was spoilt or contained insects as circulated online” but acknowledged that authorities were still investigating the matter.

However, workers raised that there “were sometimes issues with the timeliness and quantity of the meals provided to them prior to Oct 13”, it said.

“New controls put in by the authorities and employers ensured that these issues were rectified since then,” MWC added.

It said it had also heard from workers that “more could be done” to provide food catering to the tastes and dietary preferences of the workers, especially those from mainland China.

“As migrant workers from China have a wide range of dietary preferences based on where they are from, it can sometimes take time to reach the optimal catering arrangements for them”, MWC said.

“While we explained this to the workers, we told them categorically that this is an endeavour that the employer must do right.”

MWC also said it had told Chinese migrant workers that their employer had “committed to put more attention and resources into working out the most optimal dietary preferences solutions as soon as possible” and reassured them that they would continue to monitor the issue.

In the media statement, MWC did not say who this employer was. Last Friday, a day after the CNA report, Sembcorp Marine apologised to its 1,400 workers at the dormitory over the issues related to the catered food.

Additionally, Chinese workers told MWC that they had previously been able to buy sundries, rations and groceries online and have them delivered to the dormitory. This had allowed them to supplement catered food with “more familiar dietary options”, MWC said.

“Migrant workers explained that these deliveries to the dormitory were stopped a week earlier … accentuating the less-than-optimal catering situation,” it added.

It said it had asked employers and the dormitory management to restart the deliveries to provide workers with “quick and easy relief” to their catering concerns.

MWC said workers had also raised issues with the workplace environment during its visit.

"We have recorded these concerns ... fed them back to the employers so that steps may be taken to create a safer and more conducive work environment for all workers.

“We understand that the employers are implementing some measures in response to our feedback,” MWC said, adding that it will continue to monitor the new measures and the response from workers.

It also reiterated that the “care, well-being and dignity we afford to all migrant workers should not be allowed to be compromised”.

“We would like to remind all stakeholders that they should give their utmost attention to looking after the needs of all migrant workers, especially since they play a critical role in helping our community and economy through this challenging period,” MWC said.

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Source: CNA/ga(ac)

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