Singapore’s migrant workers fear financial ruin after virus ordeal

UNTV News   •   June 9, 2020   •   367

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)

QC boosts contact-tracing efforts, deploys additional COVID-19 tracers

Aileen Cerrudo   •   August 13, 2020

The Quezon City Local Government has boosted its contact-tracing efforts by opening satellite offices and deploying more contact-tracers.

To intensify the monitoring of suspected, probable, and confirmed cases in barangays, the city opened satellite contact-tracing offices in Districts 3 and 6, while four more satellite offices will be set up.

“Our goal is to stop the virus right in its track. We continuously modify and improve our strategies to make sure we slow the virus transmission within the city,” said Mayor Joy Belmonte.

The local government also formed 90 teams of field and phone contact tracers with additional 300 barangay contact tracers and 30 personnel from the Philippine National Police (PNP). The city’s total number of contact-tracers is around 600. -AAC

FDA approves Chinese drug Lian Hua Qing Wen for mild COVID-19

Maris Federez   •   August 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a traditional Chinese drug for the treatment of mild coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

According to the Certificate of Product Registration released by the FDA, Lian Hua Qing Wen “has been found to conform with the requirements and standards for marketing authorization for pharmaceutical products per existing regulations in force as of date hereof.”

Lian Hua Qing Wen, produced by traditional Chinese medicine manufacturer Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., was approved for use in the Philippines last Friday (August 7).

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said the approval was a welcome development for them as “this marks an important progress in the entry of TCM products into the Philippine market.”

The statement added that the said medicine is an approved COVID-19 treatment for mild and moderate cases in China.

The embassy added that the drug has also been approved in Hong Kong, Macau, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Mozambique, Romania, Thailand, Ecuador, Singapore, and Laos.

“It is our sincere hope that its entrance into the Philippine market will contribute to the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in this country and help the patients with mild and moderate symptoms recover,” it added.

The embassy, however, advised consumers to purchase and consume authentic traditional Chinese medicine only.

The Embassy also hopes that “TCM would play a bigger role to support the efforts of the Philippine government and its people to fight against COVID-19 until the final victory.” — /mbmf

Immigration personnel with COVID-19 reach 46, says BI chief

Robie de Guzman   •   August 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Wednesday reported that 46 of its employees have tested positive for novel coronavirus disease.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said that of the 46 personnel infected with the virus, nine have already recovered while 37 are still housed in government-accredited quarantine facilities.

Half of those who contracted the virus are currently assigned at the BI main office in Intramuros, Manila while the rest are stationed in other places such as the international airports in Pasay and Cebu, and the bureau’s satellite and extension offices in Metro Manila, and elsewhere nationwide, he added.

“The good news is that, so far, none of our employees have succumbed to the virus,” Morente said in a statement.

He also said that only one of the bureau’s employees with confirmed COVID-19 infection is presently confined and recovering in a hospital.

The BI Chief also said that the bureau had 93 suspected COVID-19 cases among its workers but half of them were already cleared of the virus after undergoing home quarantine.

Morente said the public should not be surprised that some BI employees were infected by the virus.

“We are one of the few government agencies whose personnel render frontline services, not only in our offices, but in the ports of entry as well. It is unavoidable that some of our employees do come in contact or are exposed to persons who are carriers of this virus,” he said.

The bureau earlier announced that it scaled down operations as Metro Manila and other areas reverted to modified enhanced community quarantine.

However, it assured that its online appointment system remains open to foreigners who are scheduled to leave the country during the community quarantine period.

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