Sembcorp Marine Should Treat Migrant Workers With Respect, Not As Slaves

“Worms in food”, “poor medical care” – dormitory workers voiced their frustration and fears. However, their desperate pleas caused riot police to be called in.

On Wednesday, migrant workers at Westlite Jalan Tukang dormitory in Jurong gathered to voice their unhappiness about food quality and inadequate medical care.

Covid-positive cases are not segregated from the rest of the dorm residents and this has caused some infected workers to sleep in hallways to avoid spreading the virus to their dorm mates.

There were also worms, hair and newspaper in food.

On top of that, there were healthcare lapses, lack of access to medical care, long queues at the clinic and delays in transferring infected workers to appropriate facilities.

Although the workers gave feedback to the company many times, nothing was done about it and they felt fearful and helpless.

However, little did they know that their desperate pleas for help would cause riot squads to be deployed around the dormitory to deal with them as though they were criminals instead of having their frustrations allayed.

A message has been circulated around expressing how workers are possibly feeling:

Minister of Manpower Tan See Leng

Please do not call us “your brothers”

If we are truly your brothers why do you surround us with riot squad and policemen?

If we are truly your brothers why do you send in armored vehicles to surround our work camps?

If we are truly your brothers why do you allow the work camp bosses to treat us so?

Do you not know that the food we eat is infested with worms flies and maggots?

Do you not know that the corvided and the non corvided are all huddled together in the same room waiting to get infected and maybe die if help does not arrive in time?

Do you not know Minister dat some of us have taken to sleeping on the cold hard floor in corridors to try to escape from the contagion?

Minister we are not your brothers
We are only your work slaves!

There are two thousand of us here a quarter of whom have been infected?

Why do you send in armored vehicles instead of ambulances?

Why did you not send in doctors and nurses. Instead you send in soldiers and policemen?

Truly Minister we are not your brothers because brothers do not treat each other like criminals.

We are here to work to build your industries your infrastructure and your homes.

You must not forget we are workers and not work slaves. The least you can do is to accord us some respect and treat us decently as human beings.

Workers from Westlite Dormitory
Jalan Tukang


Most of the workers at the dormitory are employed by Sembcorp Marine, a big energy group with a number of directors having roots in the civil sector. This begs the question of where they place the welfare of migrant workers. Are they prioritizing profits over the dignity of their workers? Do they ignore the awful living standards of their workers? Can they afford to treat their workers better?

Improvements to the way migrant workers are treated have to begin from the top. Unless the government starts mandating and enforcing reasonable standards for worker safety and welfare, nothing will change.

Further entrenching the problem is the current model of going for the lowest bids in civil sector tenders which encourages a race to the bottom and cutting costs as much as possible. It is the government’s responsibility to set certain ethical standards and a moral compass for businesses operating in Singapore.

The government cannot base its decisions solely on profits and growth. The people who build our country cannot have their basic rights to decent living standards neglected. All the talk about the importance of foreign workers is cheap when the government sees them only as slaves for our economy.