Asia

Health, finances still weigh on workers' minds

He has not lost hope despite being owed two months’ salary.

The Indian national, who gave his name only as Mr Raj, said things appear to be going back to normal even though some of his compatriots had to recently be put on stay-home notice (SHN) for a second time, this round for 14 days.

“I understand my boss’ problems as everyone suffered during the circuit breaker when there was no work,” said Mr Raj, who is in his mid-40s and works as a driver.

“From June onward, I restarted work and got my monthly $750 pay. I just have to tahan because my boss promised to repay my April and May salaries,” he said, using the Malay term for “endure”.

Mr Raj, who has been working in Singapore for more than 10 years, admitted he was fearful when talk of a second lockdown last month began to spread on WhatsApp.

Fortunately for him, he does not stay in a purpose-built dormitory, otherwise there was a chance he would also be quarantined.

While looking for a new job in May, during the period his employer had not paid his salary, he realised the present job market was gloomy.

“I’m still searching, but employers said there are no vacancies for foreign workers,” added Mr Raj. “What is important is I still have a job.”

However, foreign workers in the construction line may not share Mr Raj’s views that the future will get better.

The uncertainty of going through another four-month SHN stint in Sungei Tengah Lodge weighs heavily on Mr Bikramjit Singh’s mind.

After resuming work for about two weeks last month after not having worked for four months, he received unexpected news.

On Aug 22, Mr Singh, 32, was among 4,800 workers placed in quarantine when a coronavirus cluster was detected in the Sungei Tengah dorm.

REASSURING WORKERS’ FAMILIES

Families are gravely concerned that going back to quarantine means there is a health risk again. We always provide the assurance that the authorities are doing their part to keep workers safe.

MR HOOI YU KOH, chief executive of Kori Holdings, saying some workers are pressured by their families to return home.

Mr Singh, who erects scaffolding for a living, worries a lot about his finances.

“Like everyone, I send some of my salary to my parents in India every month,” said Mr Singh, who earns about $800 and has postponed his wedding at the end of the year.

“But I don’t know how long my company can stay in business when 30 per cent of its workers are in quarantine.”

Mr Singh, the elder of two sons, wires home $500 for his family’s food, water and power bills, as well as to repay a bank loan taken to finance his return to Singapore last year.

He first came to Singapore in 2009 – going back to Punjab in 2017 and returning here last year – and is currently employed in a medium-sized construction company.

Added Mr Singh, who has so far taken six Covid-19 swab tests: “After four months of SHN, I was so happy to see my other colleagues who were staying in an Aljunied hotel. They joked that I looked better because I’m now skinnier after losing 10kg.”

At senior management levels, foreign workers’ concerns are being heard.

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, 49, chief executive of Kori Holdings, said some workers are pressured by their families to return home.

“Families are gravely concerned that going back to quarantine means there is a health risk again,” said Mr Hooi, who has 200 foreign workers in his company.

“We always provide the assurance that the authorities are doing their part to keep workers safe.”

Managers The Straits Times spoke to agreed that video calls foreign workers make back home have helped to ease some anxiety among their loved ones.

Current measures to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus have made it impossible for one construction director to visit his workers’ dorms personally to check on their welfare – something Mr David Ng used to do each day before the circuit breaker period.

On Aug 10, Mr Ng, 61, director of Iso-Team Corporation, was told that a 30-year-old Myanmar employee had apparently taken his life at a temporary housing facility at the Singapore Sports Hub.

He was the only worker from Iso-Team staying at the facility.

Mr Ng, whose company hires 300 foreign workers, said: “We were taken aback at his demise. The worker appeared happy, telling his colleagues that he had received the green code. He was also due for a work permit renewal medical check-up.”

But some workers choose to keep their worries to themselves.

The Myanmar national, who was a painter, leaves his wife and two children – a daughter, five, and a son, three.

At the funeral, the dead man’s brother-in-law, who works in Singapore, told Mr Ng he could have been depressed about raising money for his son’s treatment for a head tumour.

Mr Ng was shown family photographs and an X-ray of the boy’s skull.

Iso-Team is in the process of wiring donations to the worker’s wife.

Zaihan Mohamed Yusof

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