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“I could have been that foreign worker that you refuse to sit next to on public transport…”

By April 14, 2020Current

TL;DR – Remember, this lovely country was built on the backs of migrant workers, like our grandparents and great grandparents.

Day 8 of the circuit breaker period.

How is everyone doing? Hope everyone not in essential services is coping well whilst staying at home. As for those of you who are in essential services, thank you loads for helping to keep our city alive.

We saw our highest number of new cases last night. The way I look at it, there are effectively three streams. One, imported cases. Two, local (community) cases. Three, foreign worker clusters.

The fortunate thing is the imported cases stream looks to be well under control, especially now that we’ve banned all entry of short term visit passes, and everyone else with legit passes to enter Singapore have to serve the 14-day Stay Home Notice (SHN).

As for the second stream of local cases, numbers of Singaporeans and PRs getting infected are not too alarming, hovering between one to two dozen new cases a day. Hopefully we see fewer cases of people flouting the social distancing measures, and we have more people stay home and we should be OK.

The third stream, i.e. the foreign worker clusters, unfortunately, is worrying. The numbers have been highly alarming and I also think it’s very tricky to handle. There are close to 300,000 of such foreign workers, and most live in very close quarters with one another. Treating the high number of cases alone is a challenge, since they will take up a fair bit of the resources. But that aside, the containment of the non-infected cases is yet another challenge.

While we’re posting on social media, MWC is working on masks and sanitisers for foreign workers

I imagine MOM and the newly-set-up inter-agency task force (IATF) will have to separate those who have come into very close contact with the infected cases and isolate them from the rest. And they will also have to identify healthy foreign workers who work in essential services like cleaning and facilities management and house them separately so that we can be sure that these services are not disrupted. This will mean identifying and preparing sites to house these different groups, arranging for beds and storage for these workers, as well as logistics such as meals, masks, soap, sanitisers, etc.

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The purpose-built dorms have capacities that can range from a few thousands to tens of thousands. The planning and logistics work is no mean feat.

And overall, MOM and the IATF will also have to put in measures to ensure there’s appropriate distancing measures in the dormitories as well.

MOM has been putting up very regular updates since last week to keep us updated of the steps they’re taking to contain the spread and also what they’re doing to improve the living conditions of the foreign workers.

Check out their strategy to manage transmission at the foreign worker dormitories here,

 

Separately, most of you probably do not know that it’s the Tamil New Year today (14 April), or what they call Puthandu.

Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo has put up a special note by way of a Facebook video for our foreign workers. I’d like to bring your attention to the salary payment part. Mrs Teo had said,

I know that some of you are worried about salaries – will you still get paid? How do you send your money back home to your families? MOM will make sure that your employers continue to pay you. Most of you are already paid electronically. If you are not yet paid electronically, we will work with your employers to change. This way, even if you don’t go to work, your employers can pay you. Until your employers make the switch, MOM will arrange for them to pay your outstanding salaries in cash, even if you are staying in the dormitories. We will also find ways to help you remit the money home.

I’m happy to see that MOM is going to make sure that the quarantined workers are paid their salaries. While the majority of these foreign workers are already paid electronically, it’s nice to hear that MOM will be working with the other employers to onboard electronic salary payment too. And in the meantime, until the employers make the switch, MOM will arrange for cash payment even if the workers are now stuck in the dorms.

Mrs Teo has also said that MOM will find ways to help workers remit the money home. This is important to many of the foreign workers and their families.

 

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OK now, enough of updates.

The true star and highlight of this article is actually Singaporean Jayasutha Samuthiran’s writing. She’d penned a beautiful piece that reminds us all of how most of our great grandparents, grandparents, or even parents, were probably once migrant workers here too. They’re people too, not very different from you or me.

Thanks much, dear, for the permission to republish your post! Stay safe here (and also, eventually, in Amsterdam too)!

Jayasutha Samuthiran: I could have been that foreign worker…

I’m really quite done with a growing number of fellow Singaporeans referring to foreign workers as “jokers”, “dirty people”, “those people”, “less civilized” and so much more. Every time I hear or read about hateful comments towards foreigners in Singapore who are dark-skinned or brown, I know that it doesn’t take very much more for that hatred to be spewed at people who look like them but are locals. Because citizenship and Singaporeanness don’t come written on labels attached to our foreheads, especially so when prejudice comes so easily. (I tried to translate a phrase from Tamil to English here haha)

I always remind myself that if fate had had it differently, and my paternal great grandfather from Tamil Nadu in India had not moved to, managed a Hindu temple, married a Mauritian lady and planted roots in then-Malaya, and my maternal grandfather had not landed a job as a labourer at the Port Authority of Singapore (PSA), brought his young Tamil wife over and decided to settle down for good in Singapore, leaving Tamil Nadu in India…

I could be that dark-skinned foreign worker from Tamil Nadu who is housed in a dormitory in Singapore where social distancing is nearly impossible.

I could have been that foreign worker who has his meal on the floor, eating with his hands at the side of the road or under the void deck, because sitting on the ground and eating with your washed hand are not barbaric behaviours but traditional and cultural ways of eating. I eat with my bare hands so much of the time, so do many other South Asian Singaporeans. We may not sit on the floor and have our meals because our behinds are much more used to tables and chairs. But sitting on the floor and eating a meal off a banana leaf can still be seen in Hindu temples in Singapore. And we do it easily and proudly.

I could have been that foreign worker that you refuse to sit next to on public transport cos you think he smells.. but hey, you have done the same to me as a Singaporean dark-skinned person because you’ve lived your life equating darker skin with dirt, poverty, a lower class and less civilized behaviour.

I could have been that foreign worker who has toiled all my life in the scorching sun, building roads, houses, collecting rubbish, cleaning public areas and toilets – doing all the things you didn’t want to do and found cheap labour like me to do it for you and then scrunched up your nose at me, because you deem me filthy.

I could have been that foreign worker who is now just a number that alarms you every night when you receive that Covid-19 whatsapp message from Gov.sg. And then all you can think about is whether a younger foreign worker with Covid-19 will be prioritised over an older Singaporean with Covid-19 at the hospital, if push comes to shove. Or if the Filipino domestic helper girlfriend that a Bangladeshi worker met will spread the virus to your family.

The next time you hear vitriol being thrown against foreign workers in Singapore, stand up for them. They are not so different from you or me. They just are not fortunate enough to be locked down with their families in these trying times. They cook, they clean up after themselves and they want to be safe – but when you are cooped up in a dormitory with hundreds of others, it becomes that much harder.

Remember, this lovely country was built on the backs of migrant workers, like our grandparents and great grandparents. They would turn in their graves if we did not stand up for people just like them, who came generations after them, to do the same thing – build Singapore.

#SGUnited #SGStrong

 

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(Featured image via Unscrambled.sg)

 

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Maggie O

Author Maggie O

Digital extrovert. Social introvert (warning: 93% introverted!) In the day, I work to put cai-png on the table and ice-cream in the fridge. In the night, I read a lot and write a little. Also, all views expressed in my contribution pieces here are based on my personal opinions, and they do not reflect the ideas, ideologies, or points of view of my employer (past, current and future).

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