CARE NEWS: Singapore’s cramped migrant worker dorms hide Covid-19 surge risk says The Guardian

City-state has been lauded for its comprehensive measures but officials have been accused of overlooking key group

 Foreign workers wearing protective masks queue for free meals in Singapore Photograph: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Singapore, praised for its gold standard approach to tracing coronavirus cases, is facing a surge in transmission linked to its cramped migrant workers’ dormitories, where thousands more infections are expected to emerge.

The health ministry reported 728 new cases on Thursday, the biggest rise in a single day, as medical teams raced to test and isolate workers living in vast dormitory blocks.

While Singapore has been lauded for its rapid and comprehensive approach to contract tracing, officials have been accused of overlooking the dormitories, where thousands of workers live in close quarters and between 12 and 20 men might share a single room.

In March the campaign group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) urged officials to make plans to protect workers, warning: “The risk of a new cluster among this group remains undeniable.” Authorities are resorting to moving men to multi-storey car parks, military camps and floating hotels in an attempt to reduce crowding.

Mohan Dutta, a professor at Massey University in New Zealand, who has interviewed 45 migrant workers in Singapore since the outbreak began, said many feared an outbreak was inevitable due to the conditions.

“Participants told me that even up until Monday they don’t have access to soap and adequate cleaning supplies,” he said. While migrants were being served food so that they did not use shared kitchens, the quality of meals was poor and lacking in nutrition. In some cases 100 men were sharing five toilets and five showers.

Nine dormitories, the biggest of which holds 24,000 men, have been declared isolation units by officials, while all other buildings accommodating the city-state’s 300,000 workers have been placed under effective lockdown. The restrictions, an attempt to reduce further transmission, have left the dormitories even more crowded than usual as only essential workers are permitted to leave.

One construction worker, from Bangladesh, told the Guardian there were long queues to use shared bathrooms which often did not have enough water for the showers or toilets to function.

No one in his dormitory had yet tested positive, he said, but some people had temperatures of 38C. “In my room and other rooms also there are many [with] symptoms, some feel [they have] no energy, someone has body aches,” he said. “We are frightened.”

Foreign workers are seen outside their dormitory rooms at Cochrane Lodge II in Singapore Photograph: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

The government said it had increased cleaning services in the dormitories, which are usually privately operated, and was providing meals to workers and moving people to alternative accommodation.Advertisement

Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant in infectious diseases at Singapore’s National University Hospital, said medical teams had moved from hospitals to test people on site quickly. “If we don’t stop it there the hospitals will get overwhelmed.”

It was likely that thousands more cases would be discovered, Fisher said. “[The men] are all 30 to 40 years old, which is good, but still when you’re dealing with these massive numbers you’re going to get a good number of sick 30 to 40-year-olds.

“The risk [relating to migrant worker dormitories] is completely different and the preparation and the anticipation wasn’t there.

“The message to other places is, if you have an overcrowded setting it is just so vulnerable,” Fisher said, pointing to slum areas in countries such as India. “When people say India’s shutdown has been extended – I can’t think of anything other than shutting down. It’s like the only defence you’ve got.”

The second wave of cases in Singapore has brought the total number of infections to 4,427 including 10 deaths. Fisher said he was not aware of any fatalities among migrant worker clusters but these typically were not recorded until a later date.

Singapore’s migrant workers, who are largely from India and Bangladesh, are an essential part of the work force. Many toil for long hours on the country’s construction sites, building its skyscrapers and shopping malls, so that they can send money to relatives back home.

It is not uncommon for workers, who have temporary contracts and are dependent upon their employers for work permits, to be paid less than promised. Workers might be promised as much as S$1,200 per month, but typically receive anything between S$500-750, according to Dutta. The workers pay large sums in agency fees to work in Singapore and are often reluctant to complain for fear of being deported.

Workers’ dormitories are on the outskirts of the city-state, which, Dutta said, “makes them in many ways invisible to the landscape of Singapore”.

Article Source

CARE White Paper Issue 7: April 2020- Culture-centered community-led testing

Culture-centered community-led testing

by Gayle Moana – Johnson, CARE – Community Research Assistant and Mohan J. Dutta, Director,Center for Culture – centered Approach to Research & Evaluation Massey University

In this white paper, the community advisory group in Highbury, working with community researcher Gayle Moana-Johnson, developed the key conceptual guidelines for culture-centered community-grounded testing. The white paper highlights the key concepts anchoring the partnership between the community advisory group and the clinical team at HHPNZ

This white paper outlines the key principles of culture-centered community-led testing that are voiced by the advisory group of community members in Highbury, anchored in the principle of representing the most “in-need” members of the community (referred in the rest of this white paper as the “margins of the margins”). The key ideas in this white paper are developed as anchoring principles for the partnership between the community advisory group and the Health Hub Project New Zealand (HHPNZ).

CARE White Paper Research News – Coronavirus: Singapore migrant worker dormitories still hot topic as Covid-19 cases rise

A migrant worker looks out from a window of his Singapore dormitory. Photo: AFP

Published: 14 April 2020 by Kok Xinghui and Bhavan Jaipragas,
South China Morning Post

  • The island nation’s authorities have corrected course after appearing to be caught off guard by the logistical scale of quarantining nearly 200,000 workers
  • But their living conditions, care and the quality of food provided have remained controversial points of discussion

Singapore’s army of migrant workers remains in sharp focus amid expectations that a surge in Covid-19 infections in the tightly packed mega-dormitories that house them will continue in the short term, even as locally transmitted cases among the rest of the island state’s population show signs of easing.

The health ministry on Monday night announced 386 new confirmed infections – the highest daily surge so far. 280 of the new cases were foreign workers. With the latest increase, some 40 per cent of the country’s current total of 2,918 cases are work permit holders employed in low-wage jobs shunned by locals, such as construction.

Authorities have rapidly corrected course after appearing early last week to be caught off guard by the scale of logistical work required for them to quarantine the nearly 200,000 workers who live in 43 dormitories across the country.

Even so, accounts from activists as well as a prominent migrant rights researcher who conducted online interviews with dozens of the quarantined workers suggest improvements are needed to help them get through the isolation period.

Singapore migrant workers under quarantine as coronavirus hits dormitories

All dormitory residents are currently barred from leaving their accommodation, while the residents of eight of these dormitories cannot leave their rooms amid tighter restrictions owing to community transmission in their buildings.

In the latest move, Singaporean officials are gearing up to move some healthy workers from their dormitories to floating accommodation on vessels typically used by employees of the country’s marine and offshore sector.

The government has also announced plans to house some of these healthy workers in empty public housing flats, military camps, and multistorey car parks and void decks in public housing estates currently under construction. Military personnel, including doctors and logistics staff, have been deployed to the dormitories.

A view of the S11@Punggol foreign worker dormitory in Singapore. Photo: EPA

National development minister Lawrence Wong, the co-chair of the country’s Covid-19 ministerial task force, in a Facebook post on Sunday said community transmission in the country as a whole was moderating. Singapore is under a month-long partial lockdown described by the government as a “circuit breaker”.

But “the number of work-permit and dormitory-related cases has increased sharply, and this is likely to continue going up, especially as we undertake more aggressive testing of workers at the dormitories”, he wrote.

“As I had shared earlier, we have a comprehensive strategy to take care of our foreign workers and contain the virus in the dorms. This will take some time, but we are going all out to tackle this.”

Jeremy Lim, an adjunct associate professor with the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the latest data showed the contrasting situations of local residents and foreign workers.

“The government was focused on the Singapore population and left the worker measures to the dormitory operators and employers. This, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, was insufficient; the [dormitory] operators and employers couldn’t cope and hence the challenges faced now,” said Lim, who also chairs the medical services committee at HealthServe, a non-profit organisation offering health services to migrant workers.

The living conditions of workers in the dormitories – a subject of heated debate last week – remains a national talking point. The Ministry of Manpower came under fire last week after reports of some of the dormitories’ filthy conditions, which were exacerbated by the quarantine as all residents were indoors throughout the day.

Some workers – many of whom cook their own meals despite their long hours – also complained about the quality of food catered for them.

Since then, cleaning has been considerably stepped up, according to media releases by the ministry. It also released video interviews of the workers saying conditions were better, while photos circulating online of the workers’ meals also showed a marked improvement.

This Week in Asia understands there are special plans to give the workers a festive cheer on Tuesday to mark the Tamil New Year and the Bengali New Year.

A migrant worker is attended to by personnel from Singapore’s Academy of Medicine. Photo: Reuters

Still, the lockdown conditions are causing a strain on the workers, going by a study by Mohan Dutta, a New Zealand-based professor who has conducted extensive research on Singapore’s migrant workers.

In a white paper published on Monday, Dutta released findings from 45 hours of digital ethnography – or interviews – conducted with the workers online. The 43 interviews in a mixture of Bengali and English were conducted between April 7 and Monday.

Dutta wrote that “multiple participants refer to feelings of depression when discussing their living arrangements”.

Participants also disputed the reported improvement in the quality of food. Some said the price of the catered food was now S$140 (US$99) per month – S$20 (US$14) more than usual – and described the poor fare as “cruelty”.

“Moreover, our advisory group members note that in spite of the media attention to food and the stories about improvement in the quality of food, they are continuing to be served poor quality food,” the University of Massey professor wrote.

Activist Kokila Annamalai, writing on Facebook on Monday, said “despite some improvements, we’re a long way off from doing enough for migrant workers as Covid-19 cases mount in the community”. Based on conversations with workers and rights groups, she flagged several concerns including fears about mass lay-offs; non-payment or arrears of wages; and difficulty in obtaining medical attention for non-coronavirus ailments.

Local migrant worker advocacy group TWC2 has compared the workers’ situation to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, on which 3,711 passengers and crew were quarantined and more than 700 people eventually infected with Covid-19.

“When social distancing in dorm rooms with 12-20 men per room is effectively impossible, should one worker in a room be infected – and he could be asymptomatic – the repeated contact he has with his roommates because of confinement would heighten the risk to his roommates. The infection rate in the dorm could increase dramatically,” the group said.

Luke Tan, the case work manager for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said workers who lived in “converted industrial dorms or unlicensed dorms” might be falling under the radar when it came to testing for Covid-19, the availability of protective gear as well as food and salary payments.

“We know sooner or later the authorities will reach them but would it be too late?” he said.

The Ministry of Manpower in a statement on Monday said it had inspected over 600 factory-converted dormitories over the past three days, with minor lapses found in 57 locations.

Elsewhere, an op-ed piece in local Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao about the workers’ current circumstances drew sharp reactions, with the writer questioning whether workers cleaned kitchens and toilets themselves or if they relied on cleaners.

“If personal hygiene habits don’t improve, sanitation standards will not change no matter where they go,” wrote the writer, adding that the government had already done a good job.

Police officers enter the gate of a dormitory compound for foreign workers placed under quarantine to battle the spread of Covid-19. Photo: AFP

Reacting to a Facebook post translating the article, several people voiced their disappointment at that viewpoint, decrying it as “classist”. TWC2 had earlier said that structural constraints such as design of space, density, and the work hours of the workers played a part in the dormitories’ cleanliness. “It’s no use pontificating from a middle-class distance,” the non-profit said.

The embassies of countries with large numbers of workers in Singapore are offering assistance to their respective citizens. A large proportion of the city state’s 981,000 work permit holders are drawn from China, Bangladesh and India.The Chinese embassy in a statement on Saturday said it was “putting the health of Chinese workers living in the foreign worker dormitories as a priority”, adding that it was delivering essential supplies including some 20,000 masks to 1,800 of its nationals.

The High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Singapore, Md. Mustafizur Rahman, in a video address to his country’s nationals working in Singapore, offered reassurances about salary payment, medical benefits and the provision of meals during the quarantine period.

“You should obey all the health measures instructed by the Singapore government, it will be good for you and all of us,” he said.

Additional reporting by Dewey Sim

Article Link: Coronavirus: Singapore migrant worker dormitories still hot topic as Covid-19 cases rise

CARE White Paper Issue 6: Infrastructures of housing and food for low-wage migrant workers in Singapore

Courtesy Julio Etchart as part of CARE’s “Respect Migrant Rights” campaign in Singapore

The high incidence of COVID-19 cases in dormitories housing low-wage migrant workers in Singapore makes visible the structural challenges of poor housing and food. Building on CARE’s ongoing work with low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, this white paper presents imaginaries for healthy housing and food voiced by low-wage migrant workers.

CARE OPED: COVID19 – The Time For Communicative Leadership: Lessons from Aotearoa


New Zealand shows the way

Communicative leadership is anchored in the idea of communication as community, communication as both the primordial source of community, and communication as a resource in manifesting community. Communication forms the infrastructure of community.

Be it in its local manifestation, in its national articulation of a collective identity, or in its global networks in response to crises, community is built on communication.

Communication as communion brings together participants in spaces, creating the basis of shared values, shared meanings, and shared actions. It is through the fundamental work of communication as bridging, as bringing people together, as creating the basis of dialogue, as creating the framework for forming and sustaining relationships that we come to realize communities.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic to make evident the powerful role of communication as constitutive of community, locally, nationally, and globally. Also, it shouldn’t take a pandemic to recognize the urgency of principled communication, one that is anchored in the search for truth, in transparency, in dialogue, and in democracy.

And yet, we are here.

Globally we are in the midst of a pandemic because of communicative failures at multiple layers of leadership across the globe, from authoritarian regimes that worked hard to hide the initial information about the epidemic, to opaque global institutions that are co-opted by the agendas of authoritarian regimes, to neo-fascist political parties that have taken over some of the world’s largest democracies, driven to power by their manipulative campaigns that thrive on hate and division.

The failure of much of global leadership to respond to the pandemic, to develop preventive resources, to create and sustain health infrastructures, and to care for communities is fundamentally the failure of communication.

Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, Boris Johnson, globally we are witnessing the implications of communicative failures across nation states. Each of these men have risen to power through the deployment of communication as an instrument of hate.

Trump draws his power from simplistic narratives of the “outsider threat,” which forms the infrastructure of his “Make America Great Again” campaign. It is no surprise then that he finds refuge in the “Chinese virus,” triggering a wide range of anti-Asian incidents of hate in the U.S.

Modi’s popular appeal thrives on the use of hate to prop up an imaginary of a Hindu India, built precisely through the exclusion of its Muslim other. For a political project that was right until the COVID19 outbreak orchestrating the xenophobic exclusion of India’s Muslims through its National Registry of Citizens, it is no surprise that the COVID19 threat would be catalysed to orchestrate Islamophobia.

Driven by the deployment of communication as propaganda, U.S., Brazil, India, and U.K. have witnessed the pitfalls of communicative failure in the backdrop of COVID19. Communication, in its utter ugliness, thrives on circulating propaganda on one hand. On the other hand, it systematically obfuscates the failure in governance, the absence of basic public health and welfare infrastructures, and the abject failure of the state to care for its poor and underclasses.

In the midst of this evident failure in leadership in some of the largest democracies across the globe, it is humbling to witness a model of communicative leadership in Aotearoa New Zealand that is anchored in care, transparent communication, social justice, and democracy.

The face of the New Zealand response is the Prime Minister, a student and adept practitioner of communication as communion.

From the initial days of the sharing of the state’s COVID19 response to the ongoing lockdown that the country is witnessing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears on the screen at least once or twice a day. Her daily briefings to the press are fed through a wide range of broadcast and new media. You witness a leader that takes the care to respond to the most difficult of questions, supported by accurate information grounded in scientific knowledge, and sincerely committed to transparency. If there are questions she does not have the information on, she states so openly and with clarity.

Communicative leadership is transparent, this is one of the first lessons we learn from the response in Aotearoa.

Communicative leadership is evident in the clarity and preparation with which the lockdown was implemented in Aotearoa. Each of the different levels of response to COVID19 were explained with clarity, along with the specific behaviors being recommended in each of the levels. The message with the behavioral recommendation was simple and is repeated multiple times across channels. The Minister of Health and the Director General of Health communicated information clearly about the number of cases, the status of the cases, and the steps being taken to “flatten the curve.” A dedicated Government website communicates the information clearly and with daily updates.

In addition to her meetings with the Press, the Prime Minister draws on her highly popular Facebook live platform to participate in conversations. She takes the time to read questions and directly respond to them, often getting online from home in an informal setting.

Her responses are not mediated by public relations teams or crisis consultants.

This is communicative leadership in action, authentic in its dialogic potential. It is this very authenticity that forms the basis of community, a key part of the Prime Minister’s ongoing message to New Zealanders, to do what New Zealanders do best: respond to COVID19 as a community, caring for each other, and taking care of each other.

Care also forms the basis of a strategy that incrementally moved into the lockdown. An initial level 3 alert gave people an opportunity to prepare, before the level 4 lockdown was implemented. During this period, there was ample communication about the evidence driving the decisions, the basis of the decisions, the explanations for the behaviors being recommended, and the support available to enable the behavior.

Care and social justice form the basis of the Labour-led response strategy in Aotearoa. The lockdown has been supported with state-driven financial support for employees, with paid leave support given to organizations to ensure job security. Similarly, policies have targeted rents to be paid during the lockdown. The Minister of Finance often accompanies the Prime Minister in communicating the financial policies being put into place for support. Anchoring these policies in justice ensures that the rights of workers and low-income communities are at the forefront of the conversation.

The strong presence of Māori culture in Aotearoa shapes the state’s response to kaumātua (the aging members of communities) with care, ensuring their wellbeing is placed at the heart of the response. Communities across Aotearoa reflect this communicative leadership in local spaces, responding with mutual aid and support for each other. Communities of care anchored in mutuality hold up communicative leadership.

That robust democracies are integral to COVID19 response means that there ought to be ample room for plural voices, for questions to be raised, and for evidence to be shared based on experiences in communities to shape a climate of dialogue. In our work at the Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) in Aotearoa, this opening for ongoing dialogue based on community voice is perhaps one of the strongest elements of communicative leadership. Even as we develop advocacy papers based on questions emerging from communities, we often find that the issues we raise have already been addressed at a rapid pace.

Democracies depend on their abilities to listen to the people that own them. We witness in the COVID19 response in Aotearoa this accountability to the people, supporting a flexible infrastructure that is continually responsive to the pandemic and its changing nature.

Certainly there are ongoing challenges as the state responds to the changing numbers and scale of the pandemic. A communicative leadership has the robust capability to respond to these ongoing challenges because it is based on the recognition of the fundamental role of communication in making our communities and in sustaining them.

In an earlier OpEd, I wrote about COVID19 offering us a window into imagining new ways of organizing our communities, democracies, and the earth. Communicative leadership is a key ingredient in this work of imagination.

Article Source: The Time For Communicative Leadership Lessons from Aotearoa


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Twitter: @CAREMasseyNZ


CARE White Paper Issue 4: March 2020

COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Package

by Christine Elers (Ngā Hau), Junior Research Officer, Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research & Evaluation (CARE)

We are writing about the government’s covid-19 wage subsidy package, in particular:

  • the sick leave payment due to be folded into the modified covid-19 wage subsidy package; and
  • the online publication outlining the names of all employers who have received the covid-19 wage subsidy package.

CARE Expresses Its Solidarity with our Activist-In-Residence Jolovan Wham

CARE’s Activist-in-Residence Jolovan Wham has surrendered himself to serve a 1 week jail sentence today, March 31 2020, for criticising Singapore’s judiciary.

In his statement posted on Facebook, Jolovan voiced:

“I’m doing this in lieu of a 5k fine because I do not recognise the legitimacy of the judgment and the law, both of which are unjust.

It should never be an offence to speak your truth. Decades of oppression and persecution have resulted in the normalisation of fear. It is so normalised that we have become indifferent to injustice, especially political injustice and threats to our civil rights. We have shrugged it off so much that over time, we’ve become numb to it, instead of feeling outraged.

If we can’t speak up, assemble freely, and campaign without looking over our shoulders, the reforms we want can only be done on the terms of those in power. We will have to wait for when they are ready. All this could take years, decades, or never at all. Or we can only pick issues which are considered ‘low hanging fruit.

All the levers of change are controlled and those who don’t follow the script are persecuted. We are so muted, we can only plead, but never make our demands as equals.

Acts of non-violent resistance and disobedience has to be one of the tools we use to open up our already shrinking civil and political space and to empower ourselves. It often starts with one person, or a small group of people, but over time, with persistence and repetition of action, the space will enlarge and we will progress, one step at a time.

We need to speak our truths, and to do so, we should refuse to fear. I refuse to be complicit in the diminishment of my spirit: resistance is no longer a choice in a system determined to de-humanise you.

There should be a role for those who not only negotiate the boundaries but transgress them. Not everyone can take this position and I understand those who can’t because the costs may be high; my privilege, on the other hand, allows me to take greater risks, and for that I am grateful.”

Sharing below an interview conducted by Professor Mohan Dutta with Jolovan on the topic of authoritarian repression and strategies for social change. Also sharing Jolovan’s public talk as activist-in-residence at CARE. CARE stands with you in solidarity, because as you say so eloquently, “Those of us who can risk it, should. Those who can’t, should show their support, because solidarity is the first step to change.”

A Conversation with Jolovan Wham, CARE Activist-in-Residence

Professor Mohan J Dutta sits down with CARE Activist-in-Residence Jolovan Wham about his work in Singapore

Posted by CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation on Monday, 25 November 2019
Public Talk with Jolovan Wham

First World Authoritarianism: Lessons from SingaporeTune in for this exciting public talk with CARE Activist-in-Residence Jolovan Wham!

Posted by CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation on Tuesday, 26 November 2019

CARE OPED: COVID19 – India’s Underclasses and the Depravity of Our Unequal Societies

What COVID19 makes visible

Article: COVID19 – India’s Underclasses and the Depravity of Our Unequal Societies

“It takes a pandemic to render visible the deep inequalities that make up the highly unequal societies we inhabit. As pandemics go, the power of COVID19 lies in its mobility, along the circuits of global capital, picked up and carried by the upwardly mobile classes feeding the financial and technology hubs of capital.

The irony of neoliberal globalization lies in the disproportionate burden of accelerated mobilities borne by the bodies of the poor at the global margins. The poor, whose bodies are the sites of neoliberal extraction, are also the bodies to be easily discarded when crises hit.

The images of throngs of people, the poor, now expelled from their spaces of precarious work at the metropolitan centers of financial and technology capital, spaces that are projected as the poster-models of mobility in development propaganda, walking on the long walk home, are circulating across our mobile screens.

Images of a migrant worker dead after the gruelling walk home, a mother pulling her daughter as they try to make their way home, a young man bursting into tears at the sight of food, a father walking as he carries his sleeping daughter on his shoulders, crowds of workers waiting in long lines to board buses, these are the faces of the unequal India made visible by COVID19.

These images of emaciated men and women, with little children, carrying pots, torn down bags and dilapidated beddings on their heads, walking on the roads and highways that form the infrastructures of the new India are haunting reminders of the masses of displaced people expelled by wars, riots, genocides, and famines.”

By: MOHAN J.DUTTA | 29 MARCH, 2020



CARE has been responding to COVID19 through our community advisory groups, community workshops, and community researchers. The communities we have been working in have been creatively developing a wide range of interventions, advocacy, and activist solutions. Please click the link below to explore our policy briefs, white papers, and interventions addressing COVID-19 based on the key tenets of the CCA

EVENT UPDATE: Upcoming CARE Anti-Racism Week events online- 21-23 March 2020

Kia Ora,

Message sent on behalf of Prof Mohan Dutta (Director, Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE)) following up on the earlier email, below are the updated event posters and the online livestream links to CARE’s Anti-Racism Events between 21-23 March 2020

21 March @ 2 pm – #EndTheHate Campaign Launch – ONLINE

Event Page:

Livestream link: @CAREMassey

22 March  @ 4 pm – ONLINE

#ENDTHEHATE: Strategies for dismantiling hate

Guest speaker: Anjum Rahman

Event page:

Facebook livestream Link:

23 March @ 5 pm – ONLINE

CARE Event: Connecting Anti-Racist Struggles: From Indigenous Resistance To Refugee Rights

Guest speaker: Marise Lant

Event page:

Facebook livestream Link: