Filthy, cramped dorms come to light as virus afflicts Singapore’s migrant workers

Unsanitary, crowded living conditions at the S11 Dormitory. Photos: Jason See/Facebook
Unsanitary, crowded living conditions at the S11 Dormitory. Photos: Jason See/Facebook

Filthy floors, overflowing rubbish bins, and crowded dorms at migrant worker dormitories have exposed unsanitary conditions at privately run facilities where coronavirus infections have been surging.

Shocking photos and videos purportedly of a center run by the S11 Granuity Management company, whose Punggol dormitory was ordered on lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak, have spread online since yesterday. 

While a recent spate of dormitory outbreaks has renewed debate about how Singapore treats its migrant workers, who helped build and develop the country, the images mostly drew scorn from netizens blaming the dorm residents for not keeping them clean.

“S11 Dormitory condition horrible…..” a caption read from one of the posts by Facebook user Jason See. Some of the videos he posted had also showed stagnant water on kitchen floors and long queues in common areas. He did not reveal how he obtained the images.

“S11 Domitory [sic] condition please take a look how is our Singapore standard of [dormitory] condition,” he wrote in another post showing unsanitary conditions and insect infestation.

COVID-19 outbreaks have sprouted in eight different migrant worker dormitories in Singapore in the past week, with the largest cluster of 88 cases located at the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol. The second biggest cluster was detected at the Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory, where at least 29 people have taken ill. 

See’s images surfaced a day after Singapore announced a lockdown of both dormitories, putting around 20,000 migrant workers under quarantine as the country saw a record daily spike of 120 cases.

On Friday, PM Lee Hsien Loong ordered school and most workplaces closed, citing the unexplained spread of the virus.

Among those to criticize the migrant workers in See’s post, some in inflammatory terms, was Facebook user Isaac Tan.

“Those workers should be the one cleaning their own mess,” Isaac wrote. “Anyway Most of them throw rubbish everywhere and anywhere, just like in your own countries. Today you say, they clean, tomorrow they forget.”

Other responses have been more circumspect. Raising the longstanding topic of how Singapore treats the people it relies on to keep things running. Singaporean lawyer and former diplomat Tommy Koh labeled it “Third World” treatment. 

“The way Singapore treats its foreign workers is not First World but Third World,” he said online yesterday. “The government has allowed their employers to transport them in flat bed trucks with no seats. They stay in overcrowded dormitories and are packed [like] sardines with 12 persons to a room. The dormitories are not clean or sanitary. The dormitories were like a time bomb waiting to explode. They have now exploded with many infected workers.”

Political writer Andrew Loh noted that the problem with poor living conditions among migrant workers was not new. 

“Well, what else is new? Same old problems for 20 years – crowded dorms, bad and inadequate facilities, poor hygiene, poorly paid workers, etc. These problems have been raised to death.

Now, a virus has descended on the workers. We are witnessing a disaster in the making,” he wrote in a post yesterday.

A packaged meal provided to migrant workers on lockdown. Photo: Jason See/Facebook
A packaged meal provided to migrant workers on lockdown. Photo: Jason See/Facebook

While both Westlite and S11 have not addressed publicly the poor conditions on their premises, the Manpower Ministry said in a statement late last night that it was working with the two operators to “prioritise the well-being” of residents. 

“This includes ensuring the timely supply of food and stepping up hygiene management as a result of extended hours of stay by the workers in the dormitories,” it read.

The ministry said those who came into contact with infected residents have been separately quarantined and that “medical posts” have been set up on the grounds to attend to workers who are unwell. 

“We seek the public’s understanding and patience as we work with the dormitory operators to resolve the ground challenges and ensure the workers’ well-being,” the ministry added.

According to S11’s website, the company lauds itself for providing the “cheapest dormitories” complete with a supermarket and a gym. According to a property listing, it costs only S$300 per month for employers to rent a room of 516 square feet (48sqm) in the Manpower Ministry-approved dormitory. Each room can house 10 to 18 workers, mostly on bunk beds. 

Westlite’s 7,800-bed facility in Toh Guan houses up to 10 people in each room, the website states. It did not include the rental price. 

As of this morning, confirmed coronavirus cases in Singapore rose to 1,375 with Kranji Lodge being the latest migrant worker dormitory to be afflicted by the disease, according to a daily update announced late last night. 


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Singapore to shut Changi’s Terminal 2 for 18 months due to COVID-19
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Singaporeans to each receive S$600 in cash as part of third COVID-19 aid relief

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