OPINION: It has taken the coronavirus pandemic to highlight worldwide the living conditions for many foreign workers in Singapore, who account for the majority of staff at the nation’s offshore and marine fabrication yards.
Singapore, which just weeks ago was hailed as a global model for coronavirus containment, now has the most confirmed cases in Southeast Asia.
And the majority of the new cases reported over the past week have been work permit holders living in foreign workers’ dormitories.
Singapore on Monday reported a daily high of 1426 new cases of Covid-19 and a further 1111 new cases on Tuesday with the "vast majority" being residents of these dormitories, according to the Ministry of Health.
Although the nation’s fabrication yards are allowed to continue operating during the original four-week nationwide lockdown that was due to expire on 4 May, the coronavirus has finally taken its toll on Singapore’s offshore and marine contractors.
Both Sembcorp Marine and Keppel Offshore & Marine had already suspended some yard operations to help further prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Then the Singapore government stepped in on Tuesday, forbidding all foreign workers not engaged in essential businesses from leaving their dormitories, effectively cutting off the supply of staff to the offshore and marine sector.
Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong extended the ongoing nationwide lockdown to 1 June.
Singapore’s foreign workers' dormitories are far from squalid but with many facilities housing 12 to a room, and in some cases as many as 20, social distancing is nigh-on impossible.
Unsurprisingly this has led to clusters of the coronavirus breaking out in many of the government-licensed dormitories that house hundreds of thousands of workers from nations including Bangladesh, China and the Philippines.
If any good can come out of the tragic pandemic, it could be improved conditions for the many foreign workers who not only keep Singapore’s offshore and marine industry afloat but also build much of the island nation’s infrastructure.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)