Singapore’s migrant workers fear financial ruin after virus ordeal

UNTV News   •   June 9, 2020   •   1009

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)

Robredo pays tribute to Baguio City frontliners

Maris Federez   •   December 6, 2021

Presidential aspirant Vice President Leni Robredo on Monday (December 6) led the recognition of frontliners in Baguio City who relentlessly give their service to the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am giving tribute to the men and women who fought the pandemic. I am giving tribute to all those who worked behind all the successes that Baguio achieved over the years,” Robredo said.

“Alam ko na kayo ang isa sa mga best performing LGUs in our battle against the pandemic particularly on contact tracing with Mayor Benjamin Magalong in the frontline,” she added.

Robredo said that the main goal of her visit is to thank her supporters in the province who gave her a warm welcome despite the cold weather.

Robredo then visited the Good Shepherd Convent to lead the opening of the Leni-Kiko Headquarters. —/mbmf (from the report of UNTV Correspondent John Paul Alvarado)

Corporate parties sa COVID Alert Level 2 areas limitado lang sa 50% capacity – DILG

Robie de Guzman   •   December 6, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Nagpaalala ang Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) sa publiko na limitado lang sa 50% ng venue capacity ang bilang ng mga pinapayagang lumahok sa corporate gatherings ngayong holiday season.

Ayon kay DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, alinsunod ito sa patakarang ipinatutupad ng Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases para sa mga lugar na nasa COVID-19 Alert Level 2.

“Kung nasa alert level 2 po ang isang lugar, ang mga ganiyang klaseng christmas parties is 50% capacity of the venue and plus 10% of the venue, if may safety seal ang lugar na iyon,” ani Malaya.

“Aside from the venue capacity ay kailangan pong sumunod sa minimum public health standards. Kailangan pong naka-face mask at may social distancing,” dagdag pa niya.

Nasa Alert Level 2 ang buong Pilipinas dahil sa patuloy na pagbaba ng kaso ng COVID-19.

Babala ng DILG, maaaring masuspindi ang operasyon ng isang establisimyento na ginawaran ng safety seal kapag lumabag sa patakaran.

“Kung hindi po susunod ang mga establishment na magiging host nitong chistmas parties na ito, pwede pong i-revoke ang safety seal nila o kaya isuspinde ang kanilang business permit for failing to follow IATF rules and regulations,” ani Malaya.

Samantala, inirerekomenda naman ng Department of Health (DOH) na gawin sa outdoor venues ang salu-salo o pagtitipon ngayong holiday season upang maiwasan ang hawaan ng COVID-19.

Ayon sa DOH, mas malaki ang tiyansa’ng magkaroon ng hawaan sa mga kulob na lugar at walang maayos na bentilasyon.

Dapat ring seguruhing may hand sanitizing area sa venue at nasusunod ang protocol sa pagsusuot ng face mask at physical distancing.

Mas mainam ring gawin na lamang online ang selebrasyon upang maiwasan ang direct contact at posibleng exposure sa COVID-19. (mula sa ulat ni Correspondent Aileen Cerrudo)

DOH: Philippines now classified at minimal risk for COVID-19

Robie de Guzman   •   December 6, 2021

MANILA, Philippines ­– The whole of the Philippines is now classified at minimal risk for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday.

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said most of the regions in the country have showed decreased average daily attack rate compared with previous weeks.

“Nationally, we remain at minimal risk case classification with a negative two-week growth rate at negative 57% and a low risk average daily attack rate at point 67 cases for every 100,000 individuals,” Vergeire said in a press briefing.

“The National health systems capacity is at low risk. All regions showed decrease in average daily attack rates compared to the previous 3-4 weeks and remained at minimal to low risk case classification,” she added.

Vergeire noted that from the more than 900 average daily cases from November 22 to 29, it declined to an average of 544 per day nationwide.

She said this is lower than the figure recorded in August 2020 and April 2021 when the Philippines reached the peak of cases.

The National Capital Region also remains at low-risk classification with 112 average daily cases recorded from November 29 to December 5.

Death cases also decreased to three during the period of December 1 to 5.

Vergeire said infection rates in most of the regions have been steadily declining compared with previous weeks.

But she urged the public not to be complacent especially during this time when some people gather to celebrate the holiday season.

Vergeire said the public should continue adhering to health protocols as the threat of COVID-19 remains. (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

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