The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has released new photographs of the S11 and Westlite Toh Guan dormitories to show improved living conditions and hygiene practices for the 13,000 resident migrant workers under lockdown.
On Tuesday evening, following further queries from Mothership on Tuesday morning, MOM put out these images with a press release stating that an inter-agency taskforce was convened to "provide support" to workers and dormitory operators in the transition period to isolating the two dormitories.
This, it notes, will be the case until May 4, at the least, with the resident workers not being able to go to work, hence altering the routines of the dormitories' cleaners and management systems.
"The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will assist the operators of S11 Dormitory @ Punggol as well as Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory, to ensure that their residents get timely supply of catered meals, and the premises are kept clean."
Concerns raised about deplorable living conditions at S11 Dormitory
These actions come hot on the heels of the government's gazetting of the two dormitories as isolation areas due to the spike in Covid-19 cases from them, where grave concerns were raised in the first two days of this decision being made about the living conditions inside the dormitories.
There are currently around 13,000 people locked in at S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and approximately 6,800 at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory.
One Facebook user Jason See took to Facebook on Monday (Apr. 6) to share photos and videos that he claimed to be from the S11 Dormitory, calling the living conditions "horrible".
Some of these photos are date-stamped for the 5th and 6th of April, i.e. in the immediate hours and first day following the announcement.
Garbage overflowing in hallways
In a Straits Times article published on Apr. 6, one worker was quoted saying, "Empty food boxes are piled up on the rubbish bins and these bins are very near our rooms."
Photos posted by See, some of which are timestamped Apr. 6, 2020, indeed show piles of trash overflowing from the garbage bins in the corridors.
This trash is likely to be produced by the sudden increase in the number of foreign workers isolated together.
And a video that shows just how close the piles of trash are to their rooms:
And here is what a couple of the meals the workers were served looks like:
Kitchen area filthy and flooded with water
Some photos showed the kitchen area — a long stretch of stoves and counter space — with an overflowing sink, as well as dirty floors and counters, and signs of insect infestation.
Of these photos, some have timestamps that indicate they were taken on Mar. 29, prior to the lockdown of the dormitories. Others are undated.
See posted these photos with the caption:
"S11 Domitory condition please take a look how is our Singapore standard of Domitory condition."
One video by showed the floor flooded with water, as the person filming addresses his boss, asking:
"Boss, like this water, ah. How I cooking here?
...You see, ah, how many water. How to cooking? You see, ah. This place is our cooking place. How can I cooking?
Like this, ah, I cannot tahan, boss."
He is heard saying in the video also that he had approached the dormitory's management, but nothing had been done at the time.
See's post also included videos and photos purporting to show the crowded conditions in the S11 dormitory.
This video from See shows what appears to be a temperature screening area at the dorm with a constant stream of people coming in and out. It is unclear when this video was taken, though:
Here's a video that shows workers queueing up close to one another, without safe distancing markers on the ground. According to See, this is also taken at S11 Dormitory.
One video from See appears to show an enforcement officer trying to direct people amidst the large crowd:
You can see See's original Facebook posts here:https://www.facebook.com/jason.see.56/posts/10156104889297395
S11 Dormitories: Situation vastly improved over past 24 hours
When Mothership reached out to S11 Dormitories about the above Facebook posts, they confirmed that the above photos and videos are taken at the dormitory.
A spokesperson for the dormitory said that the images were likely taken in the initial hours after the lockdown decision was made on April 5.
S11 Dormitories also shared that it took the management some time to react to the news of the lockdown to re-organise themselves to deal with the full load of all the residents in the dormitory at the same time.
In normal circumstances, it was explained to Mothership, the residents are not usually all present in the dormitory at the same time, since they work on different shifts.
This allows the housekeeping teams time and space to clean the toilets, rooms, corridors, and rest of the dormitory.
S11 Dormitories shared with Mothership the following statement by Johnathan Cheah, managing director of S11 Dormitories, on the evening of Monday, April 6:
"We thank our residents for their patience and understanding. We have managed to increase our cleaning crew by another 10 cleaners and the situation has vastly improved over the past 24 hours.
The demands on the amenities by 13,000 residents in an isolation situation call for almost a doubling of the number of cleaners because we now have every resident in the dorm at the same time as opposed to when they are out at work in shifts.
Additional manpower has also been recruited to manage the distribution of meals and other necessities like masks and hand sanitisers. With the help of our staff educating the residents on the importance of observing safe distancing and of course, the cooperation of the residents, the queues for the collection of meals are better managed today and we will see further improvements in the next few days."
In addition, they shared with Mothership photographs of cleaning that took place all day on Apr. 6:
They also shared some photographs with Mothership following the cleaning, on Tuesday:
Josephine Teo: MOM will address living standards after Covid-19
Meanwhile, on Monday night, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post on Apr. 6 that there is no question in her mind that standards in dormitories should be raised.
She added that she will deal the Covid-19 situation first, before addressing the living standards issue in a more dedicated way, and that her team is working hard to manage the current situation:
"We are talking about 200,000 workers spread out in 43 dorms.
My team is already working round-the-clock. They are on the frontlines dealing with sometimes very tense conditions.
Please do not demoralise them with finger-pointing. They deserve better.
Let us cross this important hurdle during this “circuit breaker”, and then we can deal with this issue in a dedicated way. You have my word."
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said in a Parliamentary sitting on Tuesday (Apr. 7) that the S11 Dormitory in Punggol was found to be in satisfactory condition when MOM conducted an inspection on Mar. 4, 2020.
However, he also acknowledged that the conditions reported are "not ideal":
"We acknowledge the challenges at the start to prepare the living areas for isolation while quarantine was going on. These are not normal times, and while not ideal, the dorm conditions admittedly, could have been upkept better during this transition."
MOM will keep close eye on dormitory conditions
The Ministry of Manpower also released a statement on Apr. 6, acknowledging the challenges in preparing the dormitories for isolation.
"We appreciate the workers’ patience and cooperation, and will continue to improve the conditions for the residents of the dormitories."
In order to minimise the gatherings in the common kitchen, the ministry engaged multiple professional caterers to provide food for the foreign workers.
MOM acknowledged in its statement that there were "teething problems" with regard to the portions, the suitability of the meals and their distribution.
"These issues have been progressively resolved," said the ministry.
On the issue of dormitory cleaning, MOM said that with operators of S11 and Westlite have "ramped up cleaning routines within the dormitories, to cope with increased usage of washroom facilities, and higher volumes of trash generated".
"MOM will continue to keep a close eye on the dormitory conditions and will intervene where necessary to ensure standards are upheld. Our officers will also act on feedback provided by dormitory residents on possible areas of improvement," it said.
Co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce Lawrence Wong also said in Parliament on Apr. 7 that the Taskforce is putting in place measures to manage the infection in foreign worker dormitories, including moving workers out to other dormitories, ensure safe distancing compliance in dormitories, and stepping up testing of workers who stay in dormitories.
Read more here:
Top images via Jason See's Facebook post, S11 Dormitories and courtesy of MOM