Singapore’s migrant workers fear financial ruin after virus ordeal

UNTV News   •   June 9, 2020   •   636

As Sharif Uddin begins to dream about leaving the cramped Singapore dormitory where he has spent weeks under coronavirus quarantine, fears about his future are creeping in.

The 42-year-old Bangladeshi construction site supervisor is one of the thousands of low-income migrant workers trapped in packed bunk rooms that have been ravaged by the coronavirus, accounting for more than 90% of Singapore’s 38,000 infections.

As Singapore began easing its lockdown measures this month, migrants like Uddin started to think about returning to the outside world, bringing to the surface worries about jobs and debts as Singapore braces for its deepest-ever recession.

“The fear of losing jobs is worrying everyone at the moment,” said Uddin, who sends the bulk of his wages to his family in Bangladesh, like many of the South Asians working in manual jobs in Singapore.

For most migrant workers, at least part of their salaries is used to pay off the steep fees of the agent who helped procure the job.

Reuters has interviewed over a dozen migrant workers in Singapore in recent weeks. While many said they were still being paid, they were unsure if they will retain their jobs when the quarantine is lifted.

The Singapore government has given companies tax breaks to try and ensure migrants get paid while under quarantine and introduced measures to help laid off workers find new positions without having to first travel back to their home country, a core complaint of many labourers.

Lawrence Wong, the co-head of Singapore’s virus task force, told Reuters that the government had taken steps to help alleviate the concerns of workers around job security, but added that layoffs were possible given the grim economic outlook.

“There may be some contractors who might decide – well despite all the government measures, with the new arrangements, the new additional requirements in construction, it is very difficult and I might not want to continue in this industry – and then indeed they might release some of their workers,” said Wong, who is also the minister for national development.

He added that some workers may remain quarantined in their dormitories until August, or possibly beyond, as the government completes mass testing.

The pandemic has drawn attention to the stark inequalities in the modern city-state where more than 300,000 labourers from Bangladesh, India and China often live in rooms for 12 to 20 men, working jobs that pay as little as S$20 ($14.30) a day.

That is higher than they would make at home. But the median salary for Singaporeans in 2019 was S$4,563 per month, according to the manpower ministry.

The bigger worry for many migrants like Uddin is the debts they have racked up securing jobs in Singapore.

Migrants will usually be charged S$7,000-10,000 in fees by a recruitment agent in their home country, equivalent to more than a year of their basic salary, according to rights groups. If they lose their job, this debt could haunt their families for years.

“An indebted worker is a more compliant worker and that is what the employers like. That is one reason too that employers prefer to have new workers, than to retain old workers,” said Deborah Fordyce, president of Singapore NGO Transient Workers Count Too.

Wong, the minister, said the government will continue to work to improve migrants’ lives in Singapore, but tackling issues like fees is difficult because many agents operate in the workers’ home countries outside the city-state’s jurisdiction.

Singapore’s government has pledged to improve living conditions for migrant workers in the short-term and build new, higher-spec dormitories over the coming years. (Reuters)

(Production: Pedja Stanisic, Joseph Campbell, Edgar Su, Travis Teo)

Roque: Listen to vaccine experts, not social media influencers

Aileen Cerrudo   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. on Monday (January 18) advised the public to trust experts and not social media influencers regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

During a press briefing, Roque said it is wrong to compare vaccines to detergent soap which is an apparent reply to a tweet of comedian Vice Ganda.

Roque said there is less supply of vaccines compared to the supply of clothing detergents. He also reiterated that vaccine experts are more knowledgeable on which COVID-19 vaccines are better.

Nag-aagawan nga po tayo sa 18% na supply. Pangalawa, hindi lang naman po gagamitin para sa damit. Kaya nga po, hindi lang po isa, hindi lang po dalawa, kundi tatlong grupo pa ng mga eksperto ang magsusuri kung ang mga bakuna ay ligtas at epektibo (We are vying for 18% of [vaccine] supply. Secondly, it will not be used for clothing. Three groups of vaccine experts are reviewing which vaccines are safe and effective),” he said. AAC (with reports from Rosalie Coz).

QC gov’t to launch KyusiPass app to boost contact tracing efforts

Aileen Cerrudo   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Quezon City Government is set to launch KyusiPass application to boost its contact tracing efforts.

QC Mayor Joy Belmonte said the contact tracing app can help the city keep track of who is visiting establishments within its jurisdiction.

“Currently, our businesses are requiring their guests to fill-up health declaration forms. Through our KyusiPass, they will just tap their QR code onto the scanner and their information, including their name and mobile number, will automatically be sent to our servers handled by our City Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit (CESU),” she said.

Belmonte said each individual with a valid mobile number who is residing, working, or doing business in Quezon City is required to get a personal QR code. They can register by signing up on the SafePass website, SafePass Facebook chatbot, and through SMS.

Meanwhile, CESU head Dr. Rolly Cruz assures app users that their data will remain private and protected.

“Our QCitizens have nothing to worry about because their data will be protected and secured. Only us in CESU can access their information, and only if we need to trace the contacts of a ‘positive’ visitor from a specific establishment,” he noted. AAC

Quezon City gov’t readies 10 initial COVID-19 vaccination sites

Marje Pelayo   •   January 18, 2021

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte

MANILA, Philippines — The Quezon City government is readying the 10 initial locations where inoculation of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines to its constituents will be held.

The designated areas for vaccination are as follows:

  1. Project 6 Tennis Court (District 1)
  2. Batasan Hills National High School (District 2)
  3. NGC Covered Court (District 2)
  4. Aguinaldo Elementary School (District 3)
  5. Dona Josefa Jara Martinez High School (District 4)
  6. Diosdado Macapagal Elementary School (District 4)
  7. Kaligayahan Activity Center (District 5)
  8. Fairview Covered Court (District 5)
  9. Emilio Jacinto Elementary School (District 6)
  10. Culiat High School (District 6)

“Pinili natin ang mga lugar na ito para madaling puntahan ng mga residente ng anim na distrito ng ating siyudad,” said Mayor Joy Belmonte.

“Nagsimula na tayong magtalaga ng vaccination sites para handa na tayo oras na dumating ang bakuna. We have to plan ahead to assure our people that we are doing everything to make these vaccines available as soon as possible,” she added.

Belmonte said the city government is targeting to establish 24 sites, in addition to the three city-run hospitals – QC General Hospital, Rosario Maclang Bautista General Hospital and Novaliches District Hospital.

City Health Department head Dr. Esperanza Arias said they have already identified the other vaccination sites but these are still being evaluated to comply with Department of Health (DOH) standards.

“The vaccination site must have unidirectional workflow or one entry and one exit, comfort rooms and ample space for free movement of staff and observance of minimum health standards,” said Dr. Arias.

Arias added that a standby generator set, an ambulance and presence of Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) personnel are also required, among others.

”For every site, the QC government will designate 22 employees composed of physicians, marshals, vaccinators, counselors, and admin staff,” Arias said.

The city government earlier entered into a tripartite agreement with the AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Philippines and the national government for the delivery of 1.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

The vaccines are expected to be delivered in the third quarter of 2021.

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