SINGAPORE – A scene of chaos and neglect has emerged in a newly built foreign worker dormitory in Jurong, with residents alleging poor living conditions and a lack of prompt access to medical help for Covid-19.
Photos and videos of workers at the Westlite Jalan Tukang Dormitory expressing their frustrations with the way they are being treated have been uploaded to multiple online platforms since Tuesday, October 12.
Workers there said they did not have proper access to medical assistance and were not properly isolated. About a quarter of the 2,000 workers staying in the dormitory have reportedly tested positive for Covid-19, workers told a Wechat-based information portal.
But Sembcorp Marine, which employs a large number of workers, and the operator of the Westlite Accomodation dormitory said Thursday (October 14) that the dormitory was observing health tests and movement protocols for Covid-19.
The situation reached a tipping point on Wednesday (October 13), when residents gathered in droves to confront the management of the dormitory. Armored riot police were then called in.
Photos that surfaced online showed workers suspected of having Covid-19 infection sleeping in hallways and aisles outside dormitories.
They alleged they did this to prevent their roommates from catching the virus as no one came to isolate them while they waited for medical attention.
A resident who wanted to be known only as Mr. Ren, 41, told the Straits Times that residents were frustrated with the lack of medical assistance.
“(The dormitory management) doesn’t care about those who are sick – these men had been sick for about seven or eight days,” he said.
âTheir fever had gotten really high and we had to make a noise about it before anything was done. “
He added that the situation worsened on Wednesday, when residents confronted the management as a group.
Although voices were raised, the workers did not resort to violence, he said.
Police were called around 1 p.m. and deployed at least four Special Operations Command vehicles.
Armored police officers and vehicles were also seen at the dormitory.
Video showed workers screaming as riot police formed just outside the dormitory entrance.
ST understands that the dormitory residents are of different nationalities, but had banded together to express their frustrations.
Apart from the lack of timely medical support, they also claimed that their living conditions were poor and that they had been given food that contained worms or had gone bad.
Some of the workers had threatened to quit and return to their home countries because they were frustrated with the way they were being treated.
Mr. Ren said he has since quit and just wanted to go home.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday it was aware of allegations of breaches of health care protocols, lack of access to medical support and poor quality food at the dormitory.
Its preliminary investigations revealed that there were indeed delays in transferring workers who tested positive for Covid-19 to the appropriate facilities.
“We are working to transfer those who need additional medical care to the appropriate health facilities for treatment,” said a spokesperson for MOM.
However, a spokesperson for Sembcorp Marine said his employees living in the dormitory may not be fully aware of current protocols.
About 1,400 of the dormitory’s 3,420 beds are occupied by workers from Sembcorp Marine, according to Westlite Accommodation, which is part of the Centurion group.
âThe company understands that Westlite is following the mandatory Covid-19 health tests and movement protocols and has worked closely with the appropriate authorities,â said the Sembcorp Marine spokesperson.
âThe company is aware that current protocols in Singapore may not be apparent to residents of the Tukang dormitory and may differ from the Covid-19 management measures in their home country. “
Sembcorp Marine also said it reminded its caterer to strictly adhere to hygiene standards.
The company did not address issues raised by workers, such as why they were not isolated and taken to affected facilities immediately after testing positive, as is the protocol stated.
Westlite Accomodation also said current Covid-19 protocols were followed in its dormitory in Jalan Tukang, but acknowledged delays in transferring affected workers to the appropriate facilities.
“Over the past week there has been a spike in cases detected among Sembcorp Marine workers,” he said. “Due to the large numbers, there have been delays in transportation to recovery centers and health facilities.”
Westlite added that she was working closely with MOM to address the issue. ST has contacted MOM for further comments.
The dormitory in question had just started operating in the second quarter of this year.
Developed by Jurong Town Corporation and operated by Centurion, the 3,420 bed facility was touted as having “new pilot specifications” that went beyond current rules such as occupancy rates to be more pandemic resistant. .
Wednesday’s incident comes nearly two weeks after the announcement of updates to health measures for migrant workers living in dormitories.
Under the new measures, fully vaccinated workers who test positive but show no symptoms must be isolated at a dedicated facility within dormitories for up to 10 days.
People with symptoms should be taken to community care facilities or hospitals depending on their condition.
Labor Minister Tan See Leng then assured the migrant workers, whom he called “brothers”, that they would receive appropriate medical care.
âRest assured that MOM will be there to accompany you every step of the way and tackle any operational challenges you may encounter,â he said.
“To our migrant worker brothers living in the dormitories, I would also like to assure them that they will continue to receive appropriate medical care if and when they need it.”