By TWC2 volunteer Aretha Sawarin, based on an interview in January 2021 

As everybody in the whole world now knows, lockdowns are not fun – especially not for Mohosin Md who had only a sackful of painkillers to ward off constant pain from an injury.

When Covid-19 numbers went dizzyingly skywards within the migrant worker dormitories, Mohosin’s accommodation, like all other dorms, was put under strict lockdown. He was told to stay within his room which he shared with ten other workers. The bathroom area — with only two stalls — was shared with two other rooms. The lockdown remained in effect from April to September 2020, with only slight loosening of the rules since. Unfortunately for Mohosin, he was also pain-stricken by an arm injury from January 2020, when he fell from the sixth to the fifth storey while working.

Apart from the mental strain of being in lockdown for six months with no freedom of movement outside the four walls of a room, there was a mind-numbing monotony in the daily routine, Mohosin says. 

  • Wake up early to pray 
  • Breakfast 
  • Take a shower
  • Lunch 
  • Watch TV news from Channel NewsAsia on the only television set they had 
  • Dinner 
  • Sleep

The only contact they had with the “outside world” was through their window looking out over an expressway. He and his roommates looked longingly at the flow of traffic as a measure of the freedom other Singaporeans had that they did not.

As Mohosin recalls, “There was nothing to do… and sometimes the food not good. We cannot question anybody and cannot change [anything].” Throughout his days in lockdown, he tells us that what got him through was having a “strong heart and mind to follow the government [regulations].” 

Besides the occasional checkup from the dorm managers — mostly focussed who had Covid-19 and who had not — the only other person that could help Mohosin through his injury was the security guard. Once the dorm was quarantined, Mohosin had “no permission” to go to the hospital. 

“Did your employer assist you?” I asked.

“He never do anything… denied request,” Mohosin says. “I have no choice as a foreigner…” 

For many migrant workers in Singapore, they tend to resign themselves to their fate that they have little to no rights.

One day, his pain became unbearable and he called the security guard for help. The guard came, bringing with him a doctor, and in that one sitting, the doctor gave him a huge supply of painkillers so Mohosin could get through his everyday pains without needing medical intervention for a long time more.

A recent report by HealthServe, a non-profit organization in Singapore, pointed out that whilst low-wage migrant workers in Singapore are legally entitled to healthcare provided by their employers and supported by private insurance, especially for non-emergency services, such as in the case of Mohosin, coverage is highly dependent on employers’ goodwill (see footnote 1). Access to treatment is further complicated by the fact that migrant workers do not receive subsidised healthcare. They cannot afford to pay for treatment themselves if the employer is unwilling to provide. Singapore’s framework for healthcare for migrant workers, as laid out in the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (see footnote 2), is instead built upon the principle of “employer responsibility”; there is no State-supported social safety net for them.

Mohosin, for example, says he had to wait for almost a year, until January 2021, for substantial treatment for his injury from January 2020. Despite the law requiring employers to provide ‘any medical treatment that the worker requires’ (Ministry of Manpower 2010, see footnote 3), migrant workers in Singapore are subjected to layers of vulnerability such as to repatriation, high cost of healthcare and fear of termination of work passes – which deters them from seeking help. In moments like these, the precarity of transient labour prevails and one is left with no choice but to endure pain for fear of deportation and losing everything one has worked for.  

During my interview with Mohosin, we are interrupted multiple times with calls to his phone. Once, he picks up the video call, and he tells me that it’s about his nephew’s wedding. He smiles warmly while waving to his nephew decked out in bright colours next to his newly-wed wife. He tells me how his family misses his presence at the wedding. Like all migrant workers who travel far to make a living, there always is a trade-off.  

It’s an interesting contrast: a valued uncle to his family, an easily ignored and dismissed unit of labour here. How does one get through the daily humiliation and struggle?

Mohosin’s answer? The most important thing, he tells us, is to “have heart”.

1. Rajaraman N, Yip TW, Kuan BYH, Lim JFY. Exclusion of Migrant Workers from National UHC Systems-Perspectives from HealthServe, a Non-profit Organisation in Singapore [published online ahead of print, 2020 Aug 3]. Asian Bioeth Rev. 2020;1-12. doi:10.1007/s41649-020-00138-y

2. Employment Of Foreign Manpower Act. Revised Edition 2009. 31 July 2009.

3. Ministry of Manpower. E2010. Employers are fully responsible for their workers. Accessed 16 Apr 2020.