SINGAPORE – Newly arrived foreign workers in the construction, marine and process sectors will be able to serve the bulk of their stay-home notice (SHN) period in Quick Build Dormitories (QBDs), under a new onboarding process that will be piloted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
From March 15, these work permit and S Pass holders arriving from higher-risk countries and regions will serve SHN for four days in hotels while waiting for the results of Covid-19 tests that they have to take upon arrival in Singapore, instead of 14 days in hotels currently.
If they clear these tests, they will be sent to these QBDs – which have better living standards than existing dorms – to serve out the rest of their quarantine period, the MOM announced on Wednesday (March 3).
The QBDs will serve as new Migrant Worker Onboarding Centres (MWOCs) under a pilot programme.
These centres will allow workers to go through the mandatory orientation and Settling-In Programme (SIP) and their medical examination in one location, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng during the debate on his ministry’s budget.
“This is done so 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,” he said.
The QBDs are new dormitories with improved living standards – like fewer workers in a room – to minimise the risk of future infectious disease outbreaks. MOM has identified five of these dorms as pilot MWOC sites – in Punggol, Eunos, Choa Chu Kang, as well as two in Tengah.
Previously, migrant workers in the three sectors had to go to a designated facility for an additional seven-day testing regime after serving their 14-day SHN in hotels. They would undergo their medical examination and SIP at other locations thereafter.
Under the pilot, migrant workers will go through a residential onboarding programme at the MWOC, which includes an enhanced medical examination and expanded SIP. They will also serve the seven-day testing regime at the MWOC.
An SHN stay in hotels currently costs more than $2,000 per worker, excluding Covid-19 tests. MOM will announce the cost of the pilot MWOC scheme at a later date.
Dr Tan said the enhanced medical examination will entail more rigorous screening to identify health risks early and make patient care more effective.
For example, workers aged above 40, or with health risk factors, will also be screened for diabetes and high blood pressure.
“It reduces potential work disruptions and unexpected medical costs for employers from untreated health conditions,” he added.
Meanwhile, the SIP will educate workers on better dormitory living and worksite practices, on top of helping them understand their employment rights, good health practices and Singapore’s social norms.
For instance, it will involve learning to adopt safe management measures at worksites, using contact tracing devices and the FWMOMCare app, which allows foreign workers to monitor their temperature, update their daily health status and access telemedicine.
They will also learn when and how to seek help when they are unwell or need assistance with employment disputes, added Dr Tan.
“The MWOC brings together various entry processes as one efficient, seamless and integrated end-to-end process,” he said, adding that centralising operations in this way also improves preparation for future pandemics.
The authorities had imposed movement curbs on the more than 300,000 workers living in dorms following a surge in Covid-19 cases there last year. Construction work was also halted during the circuit breaker period.
Subsequently, measures like requiring workers to go through rostered routine testing every 14 days were introduced to prevent a resurgence of cases in dormitories.
Following the pandemic, the workforce in the construction, marine and process sectors shrunk considerably last year, by about 15 per cent.
Said Dr Tan: “They are the main occupants of our dormitories. With fewer workers and more safe management measures, there have been significant project delays which impact the completion timelines for ongoing construction projects.”
After introducing new measures, Singapore is now able to progressively bring in new foreign workers to support businesses. “However, this by no means represents that we have won the battle,” Dr Tan stressed.
“In fact… we have just reached base camp. This base camp is different in that unlike Mount Everest where we know where the full height of the peak is; in this crisis, we still do not know where the peak is.”