Skip to main content

Speech by 2nd Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng at Committee of Supply 2021

2nd Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng

As delivered

Strengthening migrant workforce resilience

1. It has been over a year since the pandemic started. As of today, over 114 million individuals all over the world have been infected and more than 2 million have died. We have been fortunate; with a Whole-of-Government effort and everyone’s support, patience and cooperation. After successfully bringing the COVID-19 outbreak in our migrant worker dormitories under control, we continue to maintain tight measures to minimise transmission. These include safe management measures, rostered routine testing every 14 days, as well as the distribution of contact tracing devices to our migrant workers.

2. In 2020, the Construction, Marine and Process workforce, or CMP, has shrunk considerably, by about 15%. The CMP workforce are the main occupants of our dormitories. With fewer workers and with more safe management measures, there have been significant project delays which have impacted the completion timelines for ongoing construction projects. This cannot continue indefinitely.

3. We are now able to progressively bring in new migrant workers to support our businesses. However, let’s not be mistaken. This by no means represent that we have won the battle; in fact, as I have alluded to in my previous speech at the end of last year, we have just reached base camp. This base camp is different in that unlike Mt Everest or any mountain peak where we know where the full height of the peak is; this this particular crisis, we really do not know where the peak is.

4. Early this year, as the global COVID-19 situation worsened, we tightened measures to contain the risk of spread from imported infections. We introduced on-arrival tests and an additional post-Stay-Home-Notice 7-day testing process for Construction, Marine and Process workers. This essentially means that the Stay-Home-Notice (SHN) for these workers has been extended to 21 days. This further mitigates and minimises any risks of an imported case from transmitting the virus into the dormitories or into the work sites.

5. But our work is far from done. Continuous adaptation, continuous improvement have helped us to bring the pandemic under the current state of control. But even as we continue to battle the evolving global and local situation, we continue to take on board the valuable lessons that we have learnt from the past many months of managing this current pandemic.

6. To prepare for future pandemics, we will transform our migrant worker landscape in three key areas:

a. First, we will fortify the upstream entry controls and measures for migrant workers. This is done so that we can minimise the transmission risks of new workers arriving on our shores, and ensure that they are properly onboarded before they move out into our community;

b. Second, we will strengthen the resilience of our dormitories. This includes conducting a comprehensive review of the housing standards of our dormitories, strengthening regulatory controls, to enable us to continuously raise housing standards across the various dormitory types and sizes.

c. Third, we will also ensure the sustainability of all of our efforts to assure, care for and engage our migrant workers. We will do so through cost-effective healthcare, establishing a migrant worker volunteer network to deepen our engagement with them, as well as partnering with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), employers and community organisations.

Fortifying migrant workers’ entry and onboarding processes (MWOC)

7. Renewed inflows of migrant workers will be needed to meet the needs of our growing economy, but at the same time we have to ensure good public health outcomes are achieved. To do so, we have set up a Migrant Worker Onboarding Centre (MWOC), this is a one-stop centre, to pilot an end-to-end onboarding process for all Construction, Marine and Process (CMP) sector work permit and S Pass holders entering into Singapore. Now there are three elements – (i) the Stay Home Notice (SHN) period, (ii) an enhanced medical examination programme, and (iii) an orientation and Settling-In-Programme (SIP) for these migrant workers.

8. The journey for a migrant worker to safely enter Singapore can be segmented into three zones.

9. First, the green zone. This refers to the upstream precautionary efforts in the source countries. Today, before migrant workers depart for Singapore, they are required to take a COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test in their country and produce a negative PCR test result within 72 hours before their departure. Robust pre-departure tests (PDT) will minimise and mitigate imported cases and allow more workers to come in. Now, there are some employers are already taking extra precautions to verify the health status of workers, by employing the use of serology tests before departure. This is over and above the PCR tests. This allows our employers to identify workers who have recovered from Covid-19 so that the public health measures that we are going to adopt on arrival can be more targeted.

10. Second, the blue zone. This refers to what we do here in Singapore. So when they arrive here, we have have introduced a combination of on-arrival PCR and serology tests. This allows us to better differentiate between recent infections from older infections where the recovered persons can still be intermittently shedding the virus, but they are no longer contagious. For example, these workers who are found to be already recovered, we can exempted from SHN. All other workers from higher-risk countries are now required 21 days - first 14-day of SHN and another additional 7-day testing process as a further precaution. This is where our one-stop MWOC comes in.

11. At the MWOC, while the workers are undergoing the additional 7-day testing process, they will also go through a residential onboarding programme, comprising of an 1) enhanced medical screening examination and 2) an orientation and settling-in programme that I had alluded to earlier.

12. This enhanced medical examination programme will entail a more comprehensive and rigorous screening to enable appropriate health support and interventions. For example, workers above the age of 40 or with risk factors will also be screened for chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This enables us to identify these risks earlier and have a more effective downstream patient care.

13. Also, it reduces potential work disruptions and unexpected medical costs for employers from untreated health conditions. The residential settling-in programme will inculcate better dormitory living and worksite practices among migrant workers who have just arrived here to help them understand their employment rights, good health practices and Singapore’s social norms. For instance, workers will learn to adopt safe management measures, learn how to use contact tracing devices, SafeEntry check-in, as well as the foreign worker FWMOMCare app to monitor their own temperature, update daily health status and access telemedicine if symptoms are reported. Our guest migrant workers will learn when and how to seek help when they are unwell or when they need assistance with employment disputes. Third, the white zone. This refers to the time when workers have cleared all these check-ups and they can move into their respective residential dormitories and adopt safe living measures both at work as well as in the community.

14. The MWOC brings together various entry processes as one efficient, seamless, integrated end-to-end process. Centralising and coordinating the operations and functions together also facilitates faster reaction time and allows us to adapt and pre-emp better preparation for future pandemics. This benefits employers, workers and the general community in Singapore. For employers, bringing the processes together helps to lower the risk of transmission from imported cases, enabling the entry of migrant workers to support our businesses where they are needed.

15. Employers, especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), will have the benefit of the MWOC providing an end-to-end SHN and onboarding service, compared to now where each employer would have to arrange for the medical screening and the SIP on their own after the workers have completed their SHN.

16. For workers, the onboarding programme will help them start their employment in Singapore on the right footing, with them knowing their rights. The MWOC will also provide the flexibility to adjust the SHN as well as testing measures in the blue zone depending on the volatility and fluctuation of the situation in the source country from where they come from in the green zone, so we can calibrate it accordingly. This is done in order to safeguard the safety and health of workers as well as our general community in the white zone.

17. Ms Sylvia Lim highlighted the concerns of households and businesses of the uncertainty when bringing in migrant workers. The MWOC is part of our efforts to minimise COVID-19 importation risk, and we hope that this will help to minimize other types of future infectious diseases importation risk, so that we can bring in sufficient numbers of workers are able to enter Singapore to support the needs of our economy. We adjust the entry numbers in a very dynamic fashion depending on the infection transmission risk in each one of the home countries, depending on the risk levels of the countries and regions that our workers come from. We facilitate the entry of foreign workers as required for key infrastructural projects. We have also been responsive and provided a higher degree of certainty to employers as well as households.

18. Entry approvals are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis by the chosen arrival date where we facilitate where it is needed, even families to enter together. Entry applications will get an outcome by the next working day. Employers will also be advised on the next available arrival window should applications for their chosen arrival dates be unsuccessful.
Resilience of Migrant Worker dormitories (FEDA, reviewing dormitory standards)

19. Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman, Ms. Rachel Ong and Mr Louis Ng asked how we can and we will improve on the standards of dormitories, including smaller sites as well as factory-converted dormitories. Today, we have a variety of migrant worker dormitories – Purpose Built Dormitories (PBDs), Factory Converted Dormitories (FCDs), Construction Temporary Quarters (CTQs) and Temporary Occupancy License Quarters (TOLQs). 60% of 280,000 migrant workers in dormitories stay in just 50 large dormitories with 1,000 beds or more and they are regulated under the Foreign Employees Dormitories Act (FEDA). 40% are in numerous FCDs, CTQs and TOLQs.

20. All dormitories whether regulated under FEDA or not are subjected to a set of regulatory requirements set by various government agencies, covering areas such as building and fire safety, minimum living and hygiene standards. FEDA imposes additional requirements in areas such as public health and safety, security and public order, and the provision of social and commercial facilities as well and services.

21. Our experience in containing this pandemic in the dorms highlighted the need to strengthen our regulatory levers in order to enable us to raise and enforce housing standards very quickly across the various dormitory types and sizes, and to introduce new housing standards to make dormitory living more resilient to public health risks.

22. We are thus reviewing the scope of FEDA to expand it to cover all dormitories regardless of size. This will allow us to bring the regulation of all dormitories – that means it covers the FCDs – under one single Act. And we are going to introduce a consistency in terms of housing standards and safe living requirements in all dormitories through this FEDA expansion.

a. This will allow MOM to prevent and more quickly contain disease outbreak in the dormitories. Requirements to create more isolation bed facilities, stringent infection control measures and ensuring dormitory residents’ well-being had to be implemented on non-FEDA dormitories today through the temporary COVID-19 Control Order. So when we expanding the scope of FEDA, this would empower MOM to directly and quickly impose safe living and infection control requirements.

b. This also enables MOM to implement a consistent framework of housing standards across dormitories of different sizes and types. There will be a set of common requirements across the board such as cleanliness, space and ventilation, as well as additional requirements that depend on the size of the dormitory, such as recreational facilities in some of the larger dormitories.

23. MOM will engage stakeholders in the coming months to review, to get their input in terms of the expansion of the scope of FEDA and we will consider the details of the regulatory framework by incorporating their feedback. We hope to complete this review and provide more details in the second half of 2021.

24. Ms Cheng Li Hui and Ms Hazel Poa asked whether dormitory standards will be adjusted and how the higher costs arising from future improved dorm standards will be managed. As most migrant workers continue to live in communal settings, it is critical to better prepare and future proof our dormitories for future pandemics.

25. Since September 2020, we have progressively rolled out over 25,000 beds in Quick Build Dormitories (QBDs). To respond to the immediate COVID-19 challenges, while strengthening the public health resilience of our dormitories against infectious disease outbreaks and enhancing living conditions for migrant workers, we have piloted a set of improved standards at these QBDs to test for effectiveness, feasibility and economic viability and sustainability.

26. For example, the capacity in each QBD room is capped at 10 residents. This is to reduce inter-mixing amongst residents. Each QBD room is also fitted with en-suite toilets to minimise transmission risks from shared facilities. Kitchens, dining rooms and laundry areas also cater to smaller groups of residents. The principle basis is to de-densify all the rooms, to facilitate the segregation of residents, so that during a pandemic we can quickly impose lockdowns in a very targeted and precise manner.

27. We are also conducting a holistic review on the improved standards to be applied to future new dormitories, keeping in mind that every new disease outbreak can be very different from the existing one. We are always working in close consultation with MOH, public health experts and the various stakeholders, such as employers, migrant workers, dormitory operators and NGOs to gather all of their views in coming up with the new standards.

28. We will also draw on our experiences from the Quick Build Dormitories. In addition to infrastructure, we are also studying how contact tracing has enabled us to more accurately identify, and isolate and quarantine close contacts in the event of a public health outbreak. There may are also be innovative processes and practices in dormitory management that can be adopted to improve overall standards in terms of infection prevention and control. We expect to finalise all of these the improved dormitory standards later this year.

29. We recognise that higher standards may also result in higher costs for employers and dorm operators. Many businesses would have locked in their costs in their existing projects and will now need time to adjust to higher migrant worker housing costs. xzcz Dormitory operators may also be more cautious in bidding to build and own new dormitories, given the current uncertain demand for migrant worker housing, alongside with the evolving COVID-19 situation.

30. The Government is studying the possibility of developing the upcoming PBDs on a different operating model compared to the current system, where currently land is released for commercial operators to bid, build and operate. We are studying each option very comprehensively and we will share our findings – and again we will work with the industry to get their feedback - in due course.

31. For existing dormitories, we will consider how to progressively improve standards, pacing it and phasing it so that price fluctuations will not be steep and the gradient will be gradual, while ensuring competitive bed rental prices and ensuring a continuous stable housing supply during the transition period. We will update all this in due time.
Sustainability (medical and social ecosystems for greater resilience)

32. Having put in place all the upstream and long-term measures as explained earlier, we need to ensure that our efforts can be sustained for the longer-term. Disease outbreaks will harm not just our valued workers, but disease outbreaks also have grave implications for employers, for the economy, for our resident population as a whole, and the provision of many services. Hence, it is in all of our interest to ensure that we continually take good care of our migrant workers.

33. COVID-19 has provided the impetus for us to relook how we engage and how we support our migrant workers. We have to and we will establish a resilient and safe support ecosystem to care for them.

34. Ms Hazel Poa asked whether MOM has sufficient manpower to implement all of these ambitions plans. Since Aug 2020, we have set up the Assurance, Care, and Engagement (ACE) Group within MOM. Our ACE officers regularly check on the dormitories to work with the migrant workers. This assures them of our continued interest in preserving their well-being, and we continue to provide holistic physical, mental and social care for them. Our multi-layered strategy of regular testing and swift containment has also effectively helped to contain infections in the dormitories to the currently very low levels.

35. This outbreak has highlighted gaps in the primary health care that migrant workers received pre-COVID-19. Often, migrant workers might delay or avoid seeking medical attention until the condition worsens significantly, with negative consequences for health, employment and work outcomes, both for the worker and for their employer. The Government has since made it easier for migrant workers to access good primary healthcare. We will need to be able to sustain this for us to constantly survey and have sentinel reporting clinics to detect public health threats early:

36. Today, about 200 workers a day use the 24-hour telemedicine service available to them via the FWMOMCare application on a daily basis. We have piloted 13 regional medical centres and we further increased the access by opening a night clinic in each of the West, Central and East regions of Singapore. About 500 workers a day receive medical support for non-Acute Respiratory Illness (ARI) conditions like gastritis or chronic diseases like diabetes.

37. Beyond this pandemic period, we will take stock of the healthcare ecosystem for migrant workers residing in our dormitories and other housing types, to see how we can sustain the longer-term access to primary healthcare in a cost-effective and culturally-sensitive way.

38. For example, we hope that every migrant worker can be registered with a designated medical centre or GP clinic near where they live and work to foster better continuum of care and better doctor-patient relationships.

39. In this way, we will shift beyond the episodic care to better manage chronic health conditions, including mental health. We have set up a Project DAWN taskforce and we have also introduced a 7 point mental health strategy comprising (i) mental wellness promotion, (ii) identification of at-risk patients/factors, (iii) screening of mental health conditions, (iv) surveillance of mental/emotional distress, (v) development and training of para-counsellors and counsellors, (vi) timely escalation of care, and (vii) provision of post intervention care to complete and ensure a holistic mental health support ecosystem for our migrant workers.

40. Our employers remain responsible ultimately for providing and paying for their workers’ medical treatment. Hence, our review of our primary healthcare support will also aim to keep these costs manageable. In a small minority of hospitalisation cases, employers can face large medical expenses. MOM is reviewing the medical insurance coverage for migrant workers to help employers better manage medical expenses, and to give both employers as well as the workers a greater peace of mind. Again, we will provide an update later this year.

41. COVID-19 vaccinations will also be made available to migrant workers. When ready, this will be accompanied – and it would be ready soon - by comprehensive communications in all of their native languages. This additional layer of protection strengthens our defenses. When the time comes, we encourage our employers and workers to get vaccinated to create a safer living and working environment for everyone.

42. Compared to 12 or 13 months ago, we are much better equipped now to deal with the health pandemic. Most importantly, employers and migrant workers have shown a significant amount of trust, patience and support in the measures which we have had to implement.
Support systems to build and sustain social resilience

43. One of the things we’ve learnt is that we were able to bring the COVID-19 situation in the dormitories under control because of the critical and crucial contributions of many volunteer workers who have helped workers overcome many of the fears and challenges that they face in Singapore, such as language barriers and the lack of social support:

a. Many NGO volunteers helped to distribute food and care packs to migrant workers

b. Many migrant worker volunteers have also stepped up to disseminate information to their peers in native languages, and worked with MOM’s Forward Assurance and Support Teams (FAST) to deliver assistance at the dormitories.

c. Mr Muthaiah (Moo-thai-yah) Diwakaran (Dee-wah-kar-ran), a volunteer ambassador with the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), has been in Singapore for about 20 years and currently resides at Cochrane Lodge 2, a purpose-built dormitory. He reaches out to care for his peers, take questions on the latest worksite and dormitory measures, and encourages workers to sign up for WhatsApp updates in their preferred language.

d. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of you, volunteers, various organisations and migrant workers, for bringing care, comfort and company to our fellow migrant workers during this period.

44. To better support and to better facilitate the outreach of more volunteer networks, ACE will partner key stakeholders to create a more structured ecosystem to engage workers:

45. First, ACE will tap on existing volunteer networks, such as MWC’s volunteer ambassadors for a start, to set up a network of migrant worker volunteers in every dormitory with 100 or more residents. Through this network, ACE will partner dormitory operators, employers and NGOs to better communicate with migrant workers, to understand their needs and work collectively together to uplift their well-being.

46. Second, we will also offer para-counselling training to our migrant worker volunteers to encourage peer support and better protect the mental health of our migrant workers.
This initiative under Project DAWN helps workers to identify signs of stress, and help them to perform simple breathing exercises that can help them relieve their anxiety, and learn where to find and access mental-health support in Singapore.

47. Third, we will also support ground-up volunteer activities that can promote social cohesion among migrant communities. For International Migrants Day last year, we brought together 24 partner organisations and 180 volunteers to celebrate at 8 Recreation Centres all across Singapore. We will do more to widen the circle of community volunteers.

48. We hope that this new engagement model will encourage migrant workers to step forward and co-create solutions. We are always a work-in-progress and we encourage everyone who has ideas to come forward and share with us so we can work together to improve everyone’s livelihoods. We encourage employers to give your fullest support to migrant workers who wish to serve their dormitory residents.

49. Ms Hazel Poa and Mr Pritam Singh asked about the enforcement of laws protecting migrant workers’ employment rights, such as cases of underpayment of salary.

50. In general, foreign employees in Singapore are protected under the same civil and criminal laws as citizens for general crimes, employment matters, safety and health and injury claims.

51. We provide foreign employees with additional protection under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) and Employment Agencies Act (EAA). These prescribe the employers’ responsibilities for hiring foreign employees, such as supervision and proper deployment, prompt payment of salaries, provision of safe working environment and ensuring acceptable accommodation. For the local employment agencies, we limit the fees in which they can charge workers.

52. We will investigate all salary and fee-related complaints, which include (i) underpayment of salaries, (ii) collection of kickbacks or recovering of employment costs, and (iii) excessive recruitment fees and we will take necessary enforcement actions. Mr Pritam Singh asked for the details of the number of migrant workers who were underpaid, and details of restitution made. Between 2015 and 2019, 950 errant employers were caught for not paying the foreign employees their contractual fixed monthly salary or inflating the salaries with no intention of paying them the amount that has been declared. There were about 1,400 foreign employees affected in these cases.

53. Penalties for the underpayment of salaries take into account the severity of the offence. For not paying the salaries that are due to them, employers could be prosecuted and fined up to $10,000, jailed up to 1 year, or both under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA). These penalties were last reviewed and raised in 2012, up from a fine of up to $5,000, or jail of 6 months or both. So, we’ve doubled it.

54. Exploitation in any form is not fair to employees and unacceptable. For underpayment of salaries, we will get the employers to make full restitution of salaries owed to the foreign employees. The vast majority have been able to recover their salaries in full. For wilful employers, MOM will take further enforcement actions. Failure to comply will attract additional penalties, including payment of fines and serving an imprisonment sentence. Underpayment of salaries to any employee, foreign or local is not tolerated, and we will not hesitate to take actions against any errant employers and parties who abet the offence.

55. Mr Singh, to your suggestion to require errant employers to pay the foreign employee a penalty amounting to six months of his salary, for each instance of salary underpayment, MOM today already requires such employers to make full restitution of salary owed to the employee and pay a fine or be jailed if prosecuted. We will facilitate the transfer of affected workers who want to continue to work in Singapore to a new employer. In spite of many of these things that we have heard about, Singapore continues to be a very attractive destination for our migrant workers who want to come to work. What we are trying to do is to assure workers that they can continue to stay in Singapore, because this is what they need, to earn an income when they report their employers for salary underpayment. As such, at this particular point in time, we don’t see a need to require the employer to pay the employee an amount beyond what was owed to him.

56. One way to reduce the incidence of salary underpayment or non-payment is e-payment. As of January 2021, more than 97% of employers pay their migrant workers living in dormitories electronically. For the remaining, we are in consultation with tripartite partners to extend requirements for electronic payments to more workers, including locals and work permit holders who are not living in dormitories.

57. Mr Louis Ng and Mr Leon Perera expressed concerns, rightfully, about the recruitment process, including job advertisements, fees paid by migrant workers and if it was possible to establish direct recruitment channels.

58. Our laws limit the recruitment fees charged to migrant workers by Employment Agencies (EAs) in Singapore at one month of their salary for each year of their contract, capped at two months. EAs must also refund 50% of the recruitment fee to the worker if the employment is terminated within six months. MOM takes strong enforcement actions against EAs that do not comply with these requirements.

59. MOM also actively takes enforcement action against persons performing EA activities without an EA licence, or engaging in hiring activities without an agent licence. Such persons face a jail term of up to two years or a fine of up to $80,000, or both. Harsher penalties will be meted for subsequent convictions, including fines of up to $160,000 or a jail term of up to four years, or both. Receiving or offering payment as consideration for the employment of migrant workers is also prohibited under the EAA and the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA). Offenders found guilty under the EFMA can face a jail term of up to two years or a fine of up to $30,000, or both.

60. In recent years, MOM has adopted the use of data analytics to detect anomalies and fraud in the employment patterns of migrant workers more quickly and more accurately. This has helped MOM proactively detect cases, in addition to complaints and tip-offs that we receive from NGOs, MWC ambassadors and migrant workers. We encourage all parties to provide us with the different data sources so that we can triangulate better, and we encourage migrant workers who are made to pay monies to their employers or any other party as a guarantee of employment, and members of the public with information to come forward on all these illegal recruitment and workplace practices, to inform us immediately. This is our appeal to you.

61. We have also ramped up education efforts. MOM has been educating foreign employees to report underpayment of salaries and employment kickbacks through various platforms and initiatives such as the FWMOMCare app during the mandatory Settling-In Programmes and orientation for first-time work permit holders and roadshows. We will educate them. The regular presence of MOM’s FAST at the dormitories also allows for early detection. Hence, foreign workers are now aware and have multiple avenues to seek help. We will continue to encourage, and we hope that you will help us to send the message out as well, to ask them to come forward early to report if they face any employment related issues.

62. There was a decrease in illegal employment agent activities in 2019 with around 70 foreigners and 18 Singaporeans taken to task, compared to an average of over 100 foreigners and 25 Singaporeans per year in the preceding three years.

63. We have not discounted this centralised job portal as suggested. While we see that as a possible option, we recognise the fact that different employers tap on various channels to recruit employees, whether it is employment agencies, employee referrals or direct hiring from source countries. If we want to mandate a centralised recruitment platform for all employers, many of our businesses have provided feedback that this will limit their hiring flexibility to meet their respective manpower needs. I think we have to open to all different suggestions.

64. In addition, such a platform may reduce but would not eliminate fees paid by migrant workers to these ‘unlicensed’ overseas agents or middlemen, to assist with the documentation required or to help link them to this platform or ‘licensed’ employment agencies in the source countries. This is always a lot of hard work in progress.

65. We will constantly and continually work with stakeholders including employers, migrant workers themselves, NGOs, employment agencies, to explore the various suggestions have been brought up in the past as well as today and moving forward to reduce the recruitment costs incurred by migrant workers seeking a job in Singapore. The support of employers, NGOs and acceptance by workers will be crucial.

66. Ms Rachel Ong asked about protecting the rights of workers to safe and hygienic meals.

67. Today, there are various options, including self-cooked food. Migrant workers who face issues with access to adequate and proper food or other well-being concerns should report their cases to MOM. MOM will address the issues raised with employers. In serious cases, we will take appropriate enforcement action. We are happy to work with NGOs, dormitory operators and employers to explore ways to ensure our workers receive sufficient, sustainable and nutritious food.

68. With the outbreak in dormitories now under control, many volunteers are concerned about the strict measures that remain in place for workers residing in dormitories even as the country moves into Phase 3. We understand and we empathise with the need for social interaction. At the same time, we are also concerned about the livelihoods of workers should a second wave or cluster emerge in the dormitories. We are therefore calibrating and easing restrictions in a careful, controlled and safe manner, particularly given the fact that there are more virulent strains emerging.

69. Communal facilities have resumed operations in dormitories where operators have demonstrated good compliance with safe management measures.

70. Starting from this month, instead of once a week, migrant workers can visit the Recreation Centres up to three times a week, on their rest days or after working hours. Each visit would also be extended from the current three to four hours. Workers will have more time to carry out personal errands or to do some sports. To mitigate transmission risk from inter-mixing, these workers must have attended their rostered routine testing, and they must continue to carry their contact tracing devices.

71. We are also currently drawing up plans to allow eligible workers to visit the community once a month. The operational details are being worked out to keep the numbers in the community manageable.

72. We have no intention whatsoever for restrictions to be stricter than necessary or to be in place for a longer time than is necessary. Because we are dealing with the real risks posed by COVID-19, especially when we are trying to prevent cross-transmission or possible re-infection.

73. Hence, we appeal to all of you for your support and understanding as we continue to calibrate measures to adapt to the ever evolving situation and doing our level best to make efforts to restore a sense of normalcy where possible.

Chinese translation of 3 key announcements (before closing the speech in English):

在过去的一年, 新加坡采取了一系列对抗冠病疫情的措施。我们从中获取了宝贵的知识和经验,能更好地为下一个疫情做好准备。接下来,人力部将三管齐下,进一步提升客工和客工宿舍的防疫应对能力。

首先,我们必须继续巩固对抗冠病疫情的第一道防线,我们要在客工抵境之前,以及抵境之际,做好防范措施, 。我们将推行“客工入职中心” 试点计划,更好地统筹与协调建筑、海事和加工业的工作准证和S准证持有者必须履行居家通知,以及接受抵境检测等的安全程序。在紧急情况下,我们也能及时调整客工抵境前和入境后的措施,将新来客工可能在工作场所、宿舍和社区传播病毒的风险,减到最低。


第三,我们将建立强大支援系统, 保障客工,确保我们在各方面所做的努力可以持续,这包括为居住在宿舍或社区的客工提供更好的医疗保健和社交网络。

只有在雇主、宿舍业者、客工、社区团体等多方的紧密协调和配合之下,我们才能降低冠病疫情爆发的风险, 我们更有信心地迎接和迈向一个“新常态”。


74. Our efforts to build a safe and resilient migrant workforce must not stop here. In fact, we are just beginning.

75. We will fortify our defences through upstream measures before and when workers arrive into Singapore. This series of safeguards will help us to better manage any risk of imported cases and to better onboard them.

76. We will raise the living standards and enhance all of the processes in our dormitories to strengthen our collective ability to respond effectively and rapidly to future outbreaks.

77. We will put in place strong support systems to make these efforts sustainable, including strengthening healthcare provision and social networks for workers residing in the different dormitories and the different housing types.

78. We recognise that these efforts come at a cost. But, prevention is always better than cure. The Government believes that investing in these preventive measures today will save us from spending more in the future to manage future outbreaks. On this note, I appeal and urge everyone, and employers in particular, to seize this opportunity to accelerate the adoption of higher productivity and less labour-intensive industry models.

79. We call upon all of you, over the last one year, who braved the storm together with us. You have expanded significant resources and opportunity cost. We should all collectively take active steps, to strengthen our workforce and workplace resilience, and to put in place robust and sustainable measures that will see us through the long haul. Future pandemics is not a question of if, but a question of when. Together, if we put our hearts and mind together, we will always be ready for future pandemics.