Some disorder in roll-out of Covid-19 testing, isolation protocols at Jalan Tukang dormitory: MWC chairman

SINGAPORE – A confluence of factors had led to delays in moving Covid-19-positive workers living in the Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory to off-site care and recovery facilities, the Migrant Wokers’ Centre (MWC) said on Wednesday (Oct 20).

This included disorder in the roll-out of new testing and isolation protocols, logistical and resource challenges in the transfer to care facilities, and an unexpected spike in infections among residents in the dormitory, MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said in a media statement.

The statement came after a team from MWC, accompanied by representatives of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union, visited the Jurong dorm last Friday.

Mr Yeo said that most of the workers’ concerns regarding newly implemented safe management measures and Covid-19 testing and isolation protocols were resolved within a day after their plight was covered on local media last Thursday.

Among the new measures implemented at dorms since the start of this month are that fully vaccinated workers who test positive for Covid-19 and have no symptoms are to isolate and recover in a dedicated facility within their dormitory for up to 10 days, while workers with symptoms are given a polymerase chain reaction test and sent to a community care facility or hospital depending on their condition.

Mr Yeo said workers whom MWC spoke to confirmed that the authorities “promptly resolved the situation by working with the dormitory operator and employers to rectify the delays and bring order and stability back to the dormitory”.

He added: “They also told us that since the improvements were made, the transfer process for Covid-19-positive cases had become more timely, and they hoped that the smoother process would continue.”

The dormitory came under the spotlight last week after reports of delays in workers with Covid-19 being sent to care facilities.

Things came to a head when workers gathered en masse to voice their frustrations last Wednesday, and riot police were deployed to the vicinity.

Mr Yeo said a team from MWC and representatives from the union had visited the dormitory to confirm that issues raised were being addressed, to check on the residents’ physical and emotional states and to assist them in resolving any lingering, employment or well-being issues.

Though many others had already been moved from the dormitory and many of the remaining residents had not returned from work at the time of the visit, they were able to engage with about 200 migrant workers.

During the visit, Mr Yeo said they learnt that some of the migrant workers did not understand the reasons and strategy behind the new safe management measures and testing and isolation protocols, which might have contributed to the confusion and disorder.

He added that the team has given this feedback to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and is working urgently with the ministry “to strengthen the communications and engagement, push out newly developed educational materials in video and print, and translated to the native languages, through our MWC Ambassador Network (made up of senior migrant workers within the same workplaces and living places) and social media channels”.

Mr Yeo said that through the ambassadors and other communication channels, including MWC’s 24-hour helpline, it will also be monitoring the situation on the implementation of the new protocols and will surface any other irregularities or delays immediately for MOM’s attention.

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Pictures of food that workers were given that was spoilt or contained insects had been circulated online, and Mr Yeo said MWC understands that the authorities are investigating the matter.

He added that though the MWC team and union representatives were not able to meet anyone who encountered such food, many of the workers they spoke to said there were sometimes issues with the timeliness and quantity of the meals provided to them prior to Oct 13, and new controls put in by the authorities and employers ensured that these issues had been rectified since then.

Migrant workers had told the team that more could be done to ensure that the catered food meets the tastes and dietary preferences of the workers, especially those from China.

As those coming China have a wide range of dietary preferences based on where they are from, Mr Yeo said it can sometimes take time to reach the optimal catering arrangements for them, and while this was explained to the workers, they were told that it is an endeavour that the employer must do right.

“We repeated to the Chinese migrant workers that their employer had committed to put more attention and resources into working out the most optimal dietary preference solutions as soon as possible and reassured them that we too would continue to monitor the progress of this aspect,” Mr Yeo.

Mr Yeo added his team was told that up until the week before Oct 13, the Chinese workers were able to make online purchases of more familiar Chinese sundries, groceries and rations unobtainable from the dormitory’s on-site minimart, which would be delivered to them in the dormitory and allow them to supplement their catered food with more familiar dietary options.

The workers explained that these deliveries to the dormitory were stopped a week earlier, ceasing this self-help option, and accentuating the less-than-optimal catering situation.

MWC reflected to the employers and dormitory management to restart the deliveries into the dormitory, and Mr Yeo said the dormitory residents appreciate the return of this additional service.

Mr Yeo also said that the engagement also raised certain concerns some migrant workers had regarding their workplace environment.

These were recorded and sent to the employers so that steps may be taken to create a safer and more conducive work environment for all workers.

MWC did not say what these concerns were.

“We understand that the employers are implementing some measures in response to our feedback,” he said.

“As with the other feedback we have given to the various stakeholders, we will also continue to monitor these new measures, as well as the sentiment and condition of the migrant workers in response.”

Mr Yeo also thanked welfare and corporate organisations that have stepped forward to donate sundries and provisions to the workers, as well as members of the public for their care and concern.

He said: “Having visited the dormitory to observe the mood and situation amongst the residents, as well as engage with them directly, we can update that the situation has been stabilised, with the key concerns of the workers having also been addressed or in the process of being rectified.

Well-wishers who wish to contribute towards supporting the needy or distressed migrant workers in general, can do so via this website.

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