Here’s how things unfolded at Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory: timeline

Migrant workers protest Wednesday at a dormitory in Jurong. Photo: Sgfollowsall/Instagram
Migrant workers protest Wednesday at a dormitory in Jurong. Photo: Sgfollowsall/Instagram

A Singapore dormitory where negligence and appalling conditions led to flared tempers and riot cops called has seized the nation’s conscience in recent days. 

Complaints of the 1,400 residents, about 500 of whom were infected with COVID-19, at the Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory in Jurong about delays in treating the sick, a lack of medical care and catered food crawling with bugs were first reported last week by a Chinese news site. Their inhumane treatment quickly came to light after police were called in to quell a protest, with the authorities and their employer, marine and offshore engineering firm Sembcorp Marine, vowing to resolve things quickly.

While labor officials accused of dropping the ball now say everything is better – even producing an uplifting video – there hasn’t been definitive word from the workers themselves. Here’s how we got here.

Oct. 12 

Complaints first reported

Several complaints from the migrant workers were first reported Tuesday by Chinese news portal Weixin where they had claimed that infected workers were not segregated from the rest and had to sleep on pavements outside. There was also not enough medication and masks for everyone, and insects, newspaper, and hair were found in their catered food. The Ministry of Manpower, or MOM, was accused of failing to respond to the workers’ complaints.  

Photos of bugs in the food catered at the dormitory. Photo: Kanxinjiapo/Weibo
Photos of infected workers self-isolating by sleeping outside the dormitory. Photo: Kanxinjiapo/Weibo

Oct. 13

MOM investigates, riot police deployed

MOM responded to the COVID-19 health breaches by deploying its Forward Assurance and Support Teams to the dorm.

A compilation video posted by Sgfollowsall showed migrant workers crowding the ground floor of Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory with riot police officers standing behind barricades and a squad of vehicles parked outside the venue. Police had arrived about 2pm, said MOM. 

“I have already informed the management about your concerns. I am trying my best to help to raise your questions to the higher management,” a man in blue can be heard announcing through a megaphone.

MOM told reporters that it was working to transfer those in need of medical attention to “appropriate healthcare facilities for treatment.” Residents who were in close contact with those infected can return to work if they test negative for COVID-19.

MOM added that it has sent mobile clinical teams to treat the residents and have informed Sembcorp Marine of the negative feedback of their food supplied three times daily.

Oct. 14

Sembcorp Marine responds, minister’s comments slammed

Sembcorp Marine told Coconuts it has “received” the workers’ concerns and is “working closely with the relevant authorities.” 

“The Company is mindful that the current protocols in Singapore may not be apparent to the residents in the Tukang Dorm, and may differ from COVID-19 management measures from their home country. In this regard, the Company, […] and Westlite have been on the ground providing clarifications and assurance to the residents on such measures,” it said in a statement.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng assured that the workers he referred to as “brothers” will be given the appropriate medical treatments.  

“Please be assured that MOM will be here to walk every step of the journey with you, and work through any operational challenges that you may encounter,” he said. “To our migrant worker brothers living in the dormitories, I would also like to assure them that they will continue to receive the appropriate medical care if and when they require it.”

His “brother” comment drew flak from the public who called Tan “pathetic” while others said they were “ashamed” of how Singapore handled the situation. 

“Minister we are not your brothers We are only your work slaves!” a migrant worker Amrakajona Zakir wrote. “The least you can do is to accord us some respect and treat us decently as human beings.”

Oct. 15

MOM says company ill-prepared, Sembcorp Marine apologizes, Chinese embassy sends supplies

MOM found that the delays in moving infected workers to recovery facilities were because they “deployed insufficient resources” as they were not expecting the rise in infections.

“Our preliminary investigations show that the initial delays in (conveying) workers from the dormitory to the appropriate care or recovery facility were because we had deployed insufficient resources to convey an unexpected increase in number of workers being tested positive,” said Tung Yui Fai, Chief of the Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group, a division under MOM. 

“This was due to a mandatory routine mass testing exercise by an employer on their workforce residing at the dormitory.”

Semborp Marine had apologized to the workers and assured the public that those who tested positive have been sent to recovery facilities and they are working with the food caterer to make appropriate adjustments to the food.

“The company apologises to our workers for these issues. The company has taken the caterer to task and has insisted on strict adherence to hygiene standards, as well as timeliness of the food delivery,” it said in an update. “It will continue to monitor this to ensure a high and consistent standard of food hygiene and quality.” 

A video posted online showing workers unloading boxes of supplies like masks, bottled water and tissue paper supposedly from the Chinese Embassy. The Chinese Embassy had not responded to Coconuts’ queries requesting for comment.

@vasternews 直击“数百中国客工在新加坡疫情宿舍求助”事件!“同胞平安,祖国牵挂”,中国驻新加坡大使馆的物资上路了!#china #tiktok #tiktoksg #singapore #vasternews #新加坡万事通 @singaporetong @sgvasternews ♬ 原聲 – 新加坡万事通 Vaster News

Oct. 16

MOM does damage control, Sembcorp says half of workers vaccinated

MOM posted a video showing workers receiving fresh apples with bento box food in slow motion shots partnered with upbeat background music. Tung was also featured saying that they have “sufficient resources” to “take good care of them.”  

Sembcorp Marine said in its latest update that during the process of verifying the workers’ vaccination status, they confirm that all 1,400 residents were vaccinated back in their home countries before entering Singapore.

Singapore yesterday recorded nine deaths and 3,058 infections, 601 of those were in migrant worker dormitories. In total, the nation has counted 148,178 cases and 233 fatalities. 

Other stories you should check out:

A Singaporean mother’s quest for police reform after troubled son’s death
Plastic warriors take on Singapore’s unrecycled shame, one upcycled coaster at a time

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