Coronavirus pandemic

Most construction firms able to arrange food for workers

But migrant groups continue to see cases of workers going hungry amid sector-wide stay-home notice

Most construction firms have been able to get meals for their foreign workers two days into a sector-wide stay-home notice, but migrant worker groups continue to see cases of workers going hungry.

The Singapore Contractors Association said there was a scramble to arrange meals for workers, after Saturday night's announcement that all work permit and S Pass holders in the construction sector would have to stay in their residences for 14 days from Monday.

While most firms eventually managed to find food supplies on short notice, they had to pay higher prices than normal due to the sudden surge in demand, the association added.

Mr David Yong, general manager of Allied MFG, which makes products from metal fabrication, said he managed to cater food for his 18 construction workers staying in a Woodlands dormitory. "All the while, we have been using the same caterer, so it was okay," he said.

However, not all arrangements could be made in time and migrant worker groups continued to field distress calls from workers who could not get food.

They had earlier warned that the sudden decision to impose the stay-home notice would lead to problems with workers' access to medical care and food.

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) said on Sunday that despite the authorities' advisories, it encountered several cases where employers failed to meet their responsibilities.

Similarly, the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) said yesterday that while the law requires employers to bear the responsibility for food, "they are unable to discharge this duty appropriately and in a timely manner" during this period.

Home also noted that enforcement has now slowed as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) focuses on addressing contagion in the large dormitories.

Yesterday, MOM and the Building and Construction Authority reminded employers that they were responsible for providing sufficient food to workers during the stay-home period.

"Employers may choose to reimburse their employees for the cost of food or groceries provided, or come to a mutual agreement on how the costs will be borne between the employer and employee," the agencies said.

Employers should also remember part of the two-week period falls within the month of Ramadan, which starts on Friday and ends on May 23, when making delivery arrangements to Muslim employees who need to fast, the Ministry of Manpower and the Building and Construction Authority said.

They added that employers should also remember part of the two-week period falls within the month of Ramadan, which starts on Friday and ends on May 23, when making delivery arrangements to Muslim employees who need to fast.

Catered meals should be arranged for foreign employees staying in factory-converted dormitories or temporary living areas at construction sites, among others, as they are not allowed to use communal cooking facilities due to the risk of transmitting Covid-19, they said.

Workers living in private residential properties or Housing Board flats can place orders for groceries or meal delivery services. Their employers can also arrange for food to be delivered, they added.

Despite the advisories, R, 30, a worker with Sun Moon Construction who has been in Singapore for five years, told ST he spent most of yesterday hungry as his employer could not get food delivered to him.

Since he could not leave the Little India shophouse where he stays, he managed to get some food only after his friend was willing to share some of his dinner.

"I called my boss, but he said he was still stuck in Malaysia and cannot come back, so he cannot help me," said R, who added that he also contacted Home, which is helping to arrange food for him.

Home executive director Catherine James said these unprecedented times are a test of how to respond with compassion and empathy.

"Every distress call from any worker must be answered during this time that they are 'confined' for the health of all of us. Workers should also be able to speak up without fear of retaliation by employers if their basic needs are not being met," she said.

Several migrant groups, like Home, have been helping to make up for the shortfalls.

For example, the Alliance of Guest Workers Outreach has partnered MWC to start an emergency meal support programme specifically targeted at workers in smaller factory-converted dormitories.

It distributed more than 88,000 meals to almost 9,000 workers between April 10 and Monday.