Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced in a press release on Monday (Apr. 13) that the work passes of 24 workers had been revoked for flouting stringent circuit breaker measures.
In a statement on Wednesday, Apr. 15, local non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) expressed their "great concern" about the actions taken by the government, calling the measures "harsh and disproportionate" compared to the sanctions issued to Singapore residents.
Unclear why work pass holders punished so severely
The work passes of the 24 individuals, who were caught eating, drinking and gathering in groups at the vicinity of Tuas View Square, have been revoked, and they are permanently barred from working in Singapore.
HOME contrasted the punishments given to these work pass holders to that of Singapore residents who have flouted the enhanced safe distancing measures, pointing out that they have only been issued fines of S$300 or written advisories.
"It is unclear to us why work pass holders are punished so much more severely", added HOME.
MOM had said in their press release that the sanctions were to "send a clear signal of the seriousness of the offence".
HOME responded that if sending a clear signal is MOM's intention, then the standards should be applied evenly across everyone in Singapore, regardless of nationality and residential status:
"Breaches cannot be taken lightly, regardless of who they are by. However, it is important that the government’s response is fair and proportionate to all who live here and have a shared social responsibility to contain this virus.
Given the chaos in workers’ lives at the moment, as well as the measures that prevent them from leaving their dormitories, it is unclear that these punishments will be communicated widely enough to act as deterrents either."
Need better communication and improved living conditions
HOME said in its statement that, rather than using punitive measures, the government could instead focus on establishing better communication about the measures in workers' native languages and improving living conditions.
The NGO shared that it had heard from a number of workers that communication about various matters has been uneven across dormitories.
"Many of them are experiencing anxiety, confusion and despair as the situation in dorms escalates every day, and are not receiving timely updates about the rules, the number of cases, and the availability of medical care, amongst other things", wrote HOME.
HOME suggested that MOM consider appointing some workers in each dormitory to educate and monitor their fellow workers on the circuit breaker measures, adding that their experience has shown that "peer learning and leadership are highly effective strategies in influencing group norms."
The poor are hit hardest by Covid-19
HOME shared in their statement about the tough position that many workers find themselves in:
"Many workers have outstanding loans due to the high recruitment fees they pay to come here, and are sole breadwinners of their families, who are even more vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The poor everywhere in the world are being hit hardest by Covid-19, and denying these low-wage workers all possibility of current and future employment here will intensify their suffering in this time."
In addition, HOME added, some workers who have their work passes cancelled may be stranded if their countries are not allowing their citizens to return to their home countries at this time.
The NGO suggested that enforcement officers give workers found to be breaching the circuit breaker measures a chance to explain their circumstances.
"This is a period where we have to create shared ownership of the challenges that lie ahead of us, so that all communities feel empowered to do their part.
Seeing that they are being treated more harshly than everyone else, on the contrary, will only exacerbate the sense of despair and disempowerment the migrant worker community is currently feeling."
Workpasses revoked previously for those who flouted SHN or had no entry approval
Previously, MOM had also revoked the work passes of 89 work pass holders for breaching entry approval and Stay-Home Notice (SHN) requirements even though employers were reminded to seek approval from MOM and informed their employees about these requirements.
Since the start of the circuit breaker period on April 7, enhanced safe distancing measures have been strictly enforced.
A work pass holder had his work pass revoked after being found loitering "at various places for an extended period of time" after he had taken his meal on the evening of Apr. 9.
The man only returned to his place of residence on Apr. 10 and hence, MOM considered his action as a "blatant breach of circuit breaker measures".
Josephine Teo: Do everything to take care of workers
In a press conference on Tuesday (Apr. 14), Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said that MOM has reached out to dormitory operators to urge them to be more vigilant since the start of Covid-19 outbreak.
Materials were produced in the workers’ native languages to encourage them to also take steps to protect themselves.
With the steep increase in Covid-19 cases among migrant workers, the government has stepped up its efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19 in foreign worker dormitories with a three-pronged strategy.
Currently, all dormitories are effectively on a lockdown with enhanced safe distancing measures to contain and prevent more clusters from forming. About 7,000 workers from the essential services have also moved to separate facilities and workers who are feeling well are separated from those who are showing symptoms.
Teo also added that the government has also set up a multi-agency team involving officers from Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force and MOM to attend to the feedback and take care of the well-being of the workers during this trying period.
Teo also said that she understands that there are "a lot of adjustments required of our workers living in the dormitories" and the ministry would "have to help them adjust, to keep them safe and healthy".
"We have a responsibility to these workers and we will do everything we can to take care of them," Teo added.
Mothership has reached out to MOM for their statement on HOME's statement, and will update this story when we receive a response.
Top photo via MOM's Facebook.
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