Commentary

The Roofs Over Our Heads

During these times when we are all staying home, we are more aware of our homes, of the roofs over our heads. The roofs that were built not by our people, but by our brothers from our neighbouring countries, the migrant construction workers. And yet, these people that helped build up our cosmopolitan country are often not welcomed with thanks and praise, but with disdain and blame.

[Image Source: REUTERS]

By Kyra Chong

2020 has been a year that has seen many socially impactful occurrences taking place, with the global pandemic COVID-19 infecting millions across the world being the most During these times when we are all staying home, we are more aware of our homes, of the roofs over our heads. The roofs that were built not by our people, but by our brothers from our neighbouring countries, the migrant construction workers. And yet, these people that helped build up our cosmopolitan country are often not welcomed with thanks and praise, but with disdain and blame. 

Job thieves?

Many Singaporeans often complain that foreign workers are stealing their jobs and hence dislike their presence here, to the point the government had to “cut the foreign worker quota” to “protect local jobs”. However, are they really stealing the jobs away from us? With the rising elite workforce, which the government encourages to all have minimally a degree, many undesirable or lower-paying jobs are not wanted, which is where our migrant workers step in. 

How many Singaporean graduates would actually like to be a construction worker after getting their precious university degree? Most degree holders would probably take on a job in a high rise building built by these construction workers.  Having said that, the preconceived notion that the foreign workers steal our jobs remain, to the point that the government has put in place measures to limit the number of foreign workers in local companies. Companies have to fork out a Foreign Worker Levy Fee just to hire foreign talent that are classified mid-low skilled, under the S and R Passes (working permits). On top of that, foreign workers can only make up 20% of the company’s workforce. Yet, with all these complaints causing so many anti-foreign worker policies, companies experience labour shortages because us Singaporeans are not stepping in to take up these “undesirable” jobs. Those that complain of foreign workers stealing their jobs should really evaluate if they would like to take on the jobs the migrant workers actually do. It is ridiculous such policies are actually creating a labour shortage instead of ensuring Singaporeans’ jobs are not “stolen” from them.

With these quotas and levys, many positions are hence “made available” for Singaporeans to obtain jobs that foreign workers would otherwise be hired for (if they should even want them). Therefore, are they stealing our jobs, or are they filling in for the jobs we find ourselves overqualified for?

Coronavirus Reveals All

These migrant workers often leave their families back home and fly to Singapore in search of a better income. As the users of the roofs they build for us, it is only right for us to say thanks to them by minimally ensuring they have their bare necessities. Yet, the Coronavirus pandemic has greatly exposed the harsh conditions they have been placed in. Furthermore, these conditions have created inevitable hotbeds for the coronavirus to fester and spread.

The roof over their heads that they have to call home, along with the other 19 men in the room. [Image Source: The Straits Times]

First, the overcrowding of dorms where 12 to 20 men share a room in close proximity brings to light the dire conditions they live in, and makes social distancing virtually impossible. Their living conditions have often been highlighted as unhygienic and poor – with overflowing urinals, uncleared rubbish and infestations of insects and bugs. Is this how we thank them for their hard work? 

The food catered to them simply unappetizing and really, just a load of rice with a small serving of sides. [Image Source: Today]

Secondly, the meals they receive, especially since during this time they are all locked in their bunkers, have been revealed as substandard. Complaints have arisen of hard, uncooked-like rice and spoiled vegetables. The meagre quality of their meals is not unique to the coronavirus situation..Some caterers deliver their lunches along with breakfast to skimp on delivery costs, which the workers can only consume much later, when the food may have already spoiled. 

Thirdly, during this pandemic, they are forced to be locked up in these dormitories, unable to social distance themselves or shelter themselves from the virus. This is evident from the thousands of them who have contracted the coronavirus. One migrant worker told The Guardian that it feels like they are “in a prison”. Many share the sentiment that it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches them, and they are unable to do anything about it. If we felt restless during this circuit breaker, at least we had more assurance on our safety from the virus, with more control over how we socially distance ourselves. We also have the privilege to leave our houses for essential needs. Could you even begin to imagine how being trapped in a dormitory is like for them? Not knowing when (and not if) it would be you who catches the virus.

What can we do to help?

If you found these facts as appalling as I did, perhaps you may like to take a second to help, to try and make their lives away from the comfort of their homes and families just a little bit better. Due to the multitude of issues these migrant workers face, there are many organisations that champion their rights and care for them. Here are some organisations you can volunteer at/donate to:

1. HealthServe 

They are an organisation which provides medical services, meals, recreation and all kinds of support for these migrant workers.

Volunteer here

Donate here

2. Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

An organisation which promotes equitable treatment for migrant workers in Singapore by providing assistance and advocating for more humane and inclusive policies.

Volunteer here  

Donate here

3. Migrant Workers Centre (MWC)

MWC is an organisation which provides shelter and food for the migrant workers, as well as assistance for those facing unfair employment conditions. They also facilitate social acceptance through community engagement and public advocacy.

Volunteer here

Donate here


And even if you are unable to donate or volunteer, simply spreading the word on their situation or changing perceptions of these workers would be of help. Your words and understanding could travel across many people, some of which might be convinced to step forward and help these migrants in need.

Maybe, just maybe, we could improve the workers’ time here as they build the roofs over our heads.


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