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A Filipino worker at a Singaporean fast-food place was quoted on Saturday (May 2) in Rappler, a local news outfit, as saying that the Covid-19 crisis has made her realize that Singapore is “heartless toward foreign workers.”
The writer of the article in Rappler said that he had visited a fast-food restaurant one afternoon in April and was thankful to see it was still open despite the circuit breaker restrictions. He greeted a fellow Filipino working at the restaurant, who is only identified as “Mel,” telling her he was glad that they were open for business.
To his surprise, Mel said she would have preferred that the restaurant would close as she believed the risks she was taking in going to work daily outweighed its benefits. And while the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) the medical expenses of workers would be covered if they caught diseases from biological agents, including Covid-19, because of work, the fast-food worker said she was afraid her hospital bills would not be shouldered if she were infected.
She told the Rappler writer, “I would rather risk our one month’s salary rather than pay expensive hospital bills just in case I contract the virus.”
Unlike other workers, Mel has enough savings to tide her over for a month or two if she has to stop working. And the article makes the point that Filipinos in Singapore are actually better off than other foreign workers, since they work as “domestic helpers, waiters and waitresses, and office personnel,” and have better salaries and benefits than others, specifically the thousands of migrant workers living in crowded dormitories across the city-state, and who usually come from Bangladesh or India.
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These workers have been in the news since last month when a wave of coronavirus infections began to emerge from among them. To date, around 85 percent of Singapore’s Covid-19 cases are from among these workers, whose cramped and sometimes unhygienic living conditions have been thrust into the spotlight.
At present, Singapore has the highest number of coronavirus infections in South East Asia, with 18,205 confirmed cases. The government diligently put measures in place since the first infection was detected in late January, but failed to account for the workers’ dormitories.
Mel told the writer how she felt about the foreign workers in the dormitories. “They neglected them. It’s only now that I realized that they are heartless toward foreign workers.”
Alex Au, the vice president of workers’ rights group Transient Workers Count Too, was also interviewed by Rappler. He said that beyond the problems of overcrowded dormitories, workers are at times expected to show up for their shifts even when they are ill.
But their accommodations have certainly been problematic, given the need for social distancing at this time. Mr Au said, “The systems worked for Singaporeans but the systems didn’t work because they were the wrong systems for migrant workers. Telling them to ‘social distance’ is meaningless when they are living 15 people to a room.”
He also said that when it comes to policy, authorities make plans taking only Singaporeans into consideration, which leaves foreign workers “at the mercy of employers.”
It appears as though fast-food worker Mel is ready to go home. “I know I’m just a foreign worker here, but the way they treat us is really hopeless. That’s why I might just finish my contract here, then bye Singapore,” Rappler quotes her as saying. —/TISG
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