Singapore’s migrant workers fear financial ruin after virus ordeal
UNTV News • June 9, 2020 • 351
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)
Consumers in Metro Manila flocked to grocery stores after President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday night, approved the reversion of some areas to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in response to the medical frontliners’ plea for a two-week “timeout”.
This prompted Malacañang on Monday to remind the public not to panic buy amid the implementation of MECQ in the National Capital Region (NCR).
“Walang dahilan para mag-panic buying. Supplies are high, delivered in supermarkets in anticipation of bigger demand prior to MECQ,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
The Palace official reiterated that only essential establishments will remain open including supermarkets, banks, and hospitals. He also said that the “time out” will be used to strengthen the government’s testing, tracing, and treatment of COVID-19.
“This is primarily to accede to the demand of the frontliners for a break. A ‘time out,'” Roque said. AAC (with reports from Joan Nano)
The Pamantasang Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) will be placed under a two-week lockdown due to the high number of staff that tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“There are currently four confirmed cases, with two recovered patients and one fatality among employees. There are also three probable and one suspect cases,” PLM President Emmanuel Leyco said in a statement.
BREAKING: Mayor Isko approves two-week quarantine at PLM amid rising COVID-19 casesManila City Mayor Francisco ‘Isko…
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso has approved their request and the PLM management will be adopting a strict work-from-home arrangement for employees for the next two weeks.
“As a University which produces doctors, nurses and medical professionals, we believe it is necessary to respond to the public health crisis by listening to science and the inputs of medical experts,” Leyco said. AAC
A Monterrey-based advertising company in Mexico changed its set of operations and now offers local residents the opportunity to rent a glass-enclosed mobile cabin to present newborns to family amid the ongoing pandemic.
A glass-enclosed mobile cabin arrives at the venue and is deep cleaned before proud parents and newborn make their entrance, while relatives and friends drive past honking their horns to take a peek at the baby.
Only close relatives are then allowed to get down from their vehicles in order to get a closer look. Renting the cabin costs $900 pesos ($40 dollars) per hour.
Adman Ernesto Gonzalez, came up with the enterprise because his daughter was born in June and he was worried that his 95-year-old grandmother would be unable to meet her.
Mexico racked up a record number of new confirmed coronavirus infections on Saturday (August 1), registering more than 9,000 daily cases for the first time and passing the previous peak for the second day running, official data showed.
Mexico’s health ministry reported 9,556 new cases of coronavirus, surging past the record of 8,458 set on Friday. The ministry also logged 784 additional fatalities, bringing the total tally in the country to 434,193 cases and 47,472 deaths. (Reuters)
(Production: Daniel Becerril, Rodolfo Pena Roja, Geraldine Downer)
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