Out of the 544 new cases of COVID-19 that were reported on June 2, 540 of them lived in dormitories. The next day, June 3, out of 569, the 562 of the foreign workers, who lived in such dorms, were tested positive. In such a situation, it goes without saying that all is not well with the dorms.
On Wednesday, June 3, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that foreign dorm operators have flouted rules about 80 times a year in the last three years. In all, 90 percent of the total cases have been linked to such dorms and it gives a clear picture of why there is such a surge in the number of Coronavirus patients among such dorms.
Although 60 percent of the breaches were minor that included failing to maintain cleanliness and tidiness, both play a major role in providing a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria. Around 300,000 migrant workers share such dorms and the result so far has been bad.
The breaches which were found during MOM's inspection under Foreign Employees Dormitory Act (FEDA) also included some multiple repeated offenders. As per the act, offenders can be fined up to S$50,000 and jailed for a year. Singapore's Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo told the media that about 100 full-time dormitory inspectors conducted around 1,200 inspections and 3,000 investigations last year.
"In egregious cases where the operator has shown a blatant disregard for the welfare of their residents, we prosecute the operator. One such case was recently concluded in the courts where the operator has pleaded guilty," a ministry spokesperson told media.
"As MOM takes action even for minor breaches, it should not be surprising that slightly under half of the entities have previously breached a licensing condition. In all cases, the operators and employers were asked to rectify the lapses immediately. MOM followed up with inspections to ensure the rectifications were satisfactory," he added.
Labourtel Management and its director Parvis Ahamed Mohamed Ghouse were the first dormitory operators to be found guilty under the act and were charged accordingly. In March this year, they pleaded guilty under FEDA for keeping its tenants under filthy and unacceptable conditions.
Employers Providing Own Accommodation Guilty Too
However, such cases were not just limited to dormitory operators. Employers who provide their own accommodation for their employees too have been found to have flouted regulations. On average, 1,200 employers every year don't provide accommodation satisfactory as per the regulations and FEDA. Unsanitary conditions and overcrowding have become a common practice among them.
Overreliance on Migrant Workers
The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic also threw light on how Singapore was over-reliant on migrant workers. It also prompted Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat to limit the focus on foreign workers and develop a local workforce or lean towards automation.
Heng added that the local workforce was not sufficient enough to cater to the needs of the industries. "We still need to rely on a significant proportion of our foreign workers to do very difficult jobs which many Singaporeans will not want to do," he told media. "For us, a combination of men and machines will be a very powerful one, and therefore we must make the best use of how digitalization can enable us to be more productive and more efficient."