Video by Lelio, photos by Babette and Alex
Ten months after the first dormitories were quarantined over Covid-19, migrant workers are still being confined to their accommodation despite Covid cases among them falling to virtually zero since the fourth quarter of 2020.
Currently, they are only allowed to be taken out by company transport to work, and then must be returned to the dorms immediately after.
They are still not able to go out for leisure or to meet friends. At most, they may be able to get a three-hour exit pass through a government-run app. But they can only apply for the exit pass on their assigned rest day, once a week. Since the three hours include travelling time, they cannot go very far and are mostly expected to merely visit nearby shops for essential errands.
Many workers stuck in such situations find it difficult to get help for employment or health issues.
TWC2 organised a mini carnival at the Penjuru Recreation Centre on Sunday 7 February 2021. A recreation centre is a cluster of shops and some games facilities built in proximity to dorms.
Besides games, dancing, cricket, and lucky draws, there was a performance by the Migrant Workers Band streamed in from a professional studio which TWC2 hired for them. Live singing is still not allowed in Singapore, so the band could not perform live at the event. There was also chicken and lamb biryani and free flow of coffee and tea.
We had lots of gifts on hand (thank you, dear donors) to give out. Masks, shampoo, soap, biscuits, snacks, toothpaste were all very popular.
Most important of all, we had caseworkers, volunteers and TWC2 ambassadors (migrant workers themselves) on hand to help anyone with questions. We made sure that every worker who came to the event had a flyer with our helpline numbers on them.
Unfortunately, the numbers attending were somewhat lower than we expected. We didn’t have high expectations anyway because only those workers with Sunday as their assigned rest day could get exit passes to come. Since the government required rest days to be equally spread out through the days of the week, this meant that at best, no more than one in seven workers would even get exit passes to come to our event.
But on the day itself, one dormitory was reported to have completely refused exits for its workers. We never understood why, though we have heard of such examples of cruel arbritariness before.
The Penjuru Recreation Centre serves three surrounding dormitories with an installed bed capacity of about 20,000 beds. As a result of density reduction since Covid began, they are unlikely to be at full capacity, so there were probably about 12,000 or 13,000 workers in all. One seventh of that number would be about 1,500 – 2,000. On that basis, we estimated that we might be able to attract slightly over a thousand workers to our event, spread over nine hours, but in the end the total number who came was only in the upper hundreds.
We were particularly sorry for the workers in the “not allowed to go out” dormitory who had pre-ordered briyani, and who, no doubt, must have been looking forward to a dish that they have not been able to have for over a year — a dish that would remind them of festive happiness at home. Our caterer even tried to make a food delivery of the pre-orders, but the dorm would neither allow the workers to come to the gate to collect the food nor help pass the food packets upstairs to them.
Infection control as an excuse won’t wash. There were no Covid cases around. One cannot help but see that there is a certain meanness about the way Singapore regulates our migrant workers.
On the whole, our event went well, and we’re happy about that. But we also came away with a renewed determination to speak up for our migrant workers.
TWC2 general manager Ethan Guo drawing a lucky number
Volunteers on hand for immediate advice
Lalitha and Christine (foreground left and right) have volunteered with TWC2 for years and are particularly great with Tamil workers
Signing up for cricket at the Discover Singapore desk
Organising themselves for a game
Free gifts for the picking
TWC2 ambassadors and volunteers
Getting their lucky draw tickets
More volunteers on hand
Pass the ball quickly
A TWC2 ambassador holds a welcome sign. Workers streamed in throughout the afternoon and evening
Issuing tokens for biryani
Waiting for showtime
The dancing begins
A worker (left) seizes the opportunity to discuss his problem with caseworker Alfiyan
We had three rounds of lucky draw. Ethan launches the first round. Lucky guy gets a watch
Everything is translated into Bengali and Tamil
A lucky winner says a few words
Executive Committee member Mizue gives away a lucky draw prize
Executive Committee member Christine giving one of the 12 laptops to a lucky draw winner
A worker has a question about transferring to another job. Alex (left) and Nicholas (right) explain the system and rules to him
These guys come straight from work and strike lucky with gifts
We give away T-shirts
Workers with broken phones get new ones
Last man who still has his balloon will be the winner
A Tamil worker discusses his problem with Christine
TWC2 ambassadors tell the crowd in their native languages about the assistance they can get from TWC2
TWC2 ambassadors then go around the crowd to explain the flyer we give out and personally answer questions anyone may have
Free flow coffee and tea
We stream in a performance by the Migrant Workers Band
They play till the light begins to fade
Into the night, workers continue to come and each receives a TWC2 information leaftlet
As each new batch of workers come in, our ambassadors repeat the message (in their native languages) that TWC2 can help them with their employment problems
TWC2 president Debbie giving away the last of the lucky draw prizes