Jo Teo gives her word to work on raising standards of foreign worker dorms after COVID-19 crisis

By April 7, 2020Current

TL;DR – Warning. This post contains disturbing footage and photos of foreign worker dormitories. 

The recent COVID-19 cases from the foreign worker dormitories have sparked interest in Singaporeans.

Suddenly, every other person has an opinion about how foreign workers should be treated, what housing conditions they should be living in, what food they should eat, etc etc etc. Overnight, everyone is an expert with 10,001 opinions and suggestions on how to raise the standards in foreign worker dormitories. Just because they have internet.

Yeps, too easy to be a keyboard warrior and play the advocacy game from your keyboard.

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo has taken to her Facebook page to share her thoughts last night.

I thought it’s an important post as she shared the challenges of housing 200,000 foreign workers in 43 dorms, what the journey has been like, what the current standards are.

Let it be said that she, too, agrees that standards in foreign worker dormitories should be raised. She gave her word that MOM will deal with this once the COVID-19 hurdle is over.

She also took the chance to speak up for her team at MOM and urged the public not to demoralise them with finger-pointing when they are already working round-the-clock and often at the frontlines dealing with sometimes very tense conditions.

Indeed, they are workers like the rest of us too.

The team has been following and covering stories on migrant workers since we started this little community news site some four years ago. A couple of us have even visited migrant workers’ dormitories before. More than once.

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We’re by no means experts on the topic, but we do know a little more than the average Singaporean what has been done for them over the past few years.

Minister Teo said, “Before such dormitories were built, many foreign workers lived in very poor and unhygienic conditions. To save costs, their employers would often house them at the very sites where they worked, which were unregulated.”

Just how poor and how unhygienic?

Or watch this video.


Migrant workers with living conditions so bad you won’t believe your eyes


Mrs Teo continued to say, “This is why a decision was taken to build the current dormitories – to raise standards and take care of the workers wellbeing. We now have 43 of such dormitories in Singapore. Consider the fact that we’re housing more than 200,000 workers in these dorms. It’s like building up the whole of Ang Mo Kio GRC or Pasir Ris – Punggol. No small feat.”

“We may have different ideas about what the standards should be but here’s what you will find at purpose built dorms:

– proper sleeping rooms with beds
– dedicated toilet and shower facilities
– recreational spaces with TVs, newspapers etc
– supermarkets or minimarts, stocked with food, snacks and necessities according to the workers’ preferences
– dedicated sick bays”

There’s apparently even an app DormWatch that the foreign workers can download to alert MOM of the living conditions in their dormitories.

So yes, more and better dorms have been built progressively over the years. Like this one.


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But is this whole “treating foreign workers badly” really just “the Government’s problem”?

I don’t think so. While legislation and enforcement can certainly help, all of us can play a part too.

Many of these foreign workers’ employers are Singaporeans too, you know. So they can also do something about it. Of course, it will translate into higher costs and lower profits for them.

Or, higher prices for us since we are the end-buyers of end products that these foreign workers build. This is exactly what Minister Teo said in her Facebook post,

“Each time we attempt to raise standards, employers yelp – these are added costs which they must eventually pass on. They ask MOM, “are people prepared to pay more?” These workers are after all, involved in delivering important services for Singaporeans including construction.

Nevertheless, I hope the COVID-19 episode demonstrates to the employers and wider public that raising standards at worker dormitories is not only the right thing to do, but also in our own interests. We should be willing to accept the higher costs that come with higher standards.”

You can read more about what is being done to ensure the well-being of the workers who are currently at the two isolated dorms, namely, S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan.

This seems like a decent start.

See what I mean by it’s much easier to just be keyboard warriors?

Are we ready to put our money where our mouths, or rather, fingers, are?

In fact, there are even Singaporeans who don’t want foreign worker dormitories in their estate for fear that it will affect their property prices.

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I’ve also seen Singaporeans shunning foreign workers on public transport when actually the foreign workers can be some of the sweetest. I have seen many of them give up their seats in the MRT trains to the elderly folks and to pregnant women. More so than I’ve seen locals do it.

All of us can play a part. We can also start by being kinder to everyone, including foreign workers. They are people, too.

But for now, I think we should let the MOM team “focus on managing the enormity of the task at hand, to contain the transmission of COVID19 at the dormitories.”

Give them some space and stop with the finger-pointing. After all, we have the minister’s word that we can work on improving things once the crisis is over.

“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.”

MWC paid surprise visit to two foreign workers’ dorms, found several hygiene and safety lapses


(Featured image via MOM)


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