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Singaporeans Are Divided Over a Company’s Plan to Transport Migrant Workers in Lorries That Look Like ‘Animal Cages’

Wooden partitions separated migrant workers into tiny cubicles.
May 15, 2020, 8:56am
singapore, migrant worker,  lorry, animal, cage, coronavirus
Image from Facebook user Raj Singh

Singapore, a country that was once seen as exemplary in its management of the COVID-19 crisis, was caught off guard when the coronavirus infiltrated densely packed dormitories for migrant workers.

The startling rise of COVID-19 cases in the community drew international attention to the poor treatment of these workers, a significant but previously invisible population in Singapore. Five hundred to 900 people in the city state continue to test positive every day, with a majority coming from these dormitories. Meanwhile, daily cases among Singaporeans hover in the single digits.

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This week, a controversial video became the latest flashpoint in the ongoing national debate.

In it, migrant workers are seen sitting in a cramped lorry separated by wooden partitions that looked disturbingly similar to a horse stable. According to the construction company who came up with this design, the video was submitted to the Ministry of Manpower for approval.

The Ministry of Manpower said it has not been approved by the government. According to Channel News Asia, the government agency had told the company that the partitions were not secure. It also clarified to the public that the proposed vehicle design has not actually been used in transit.

On April 10, the Ministry of Manpower issued an advisory on maintaining safe distance while transporting workers by lorries. These mandatory measures include reviewing the seating capacity of these vehicles so that passengers are at least 1 metre apart from one another and providing additional trips.

In the demonstration video, the construction company proposed installing partitions so that each worker is isolated in a small cubicle. While it is unclear how the video made its way to the internet, it immediately drew flak when it began circulating online on Wednesday, May 13.

"[This is] showing people exactly what they think of foreign workers — animals," Facebook user Raj Singh posted with a screenshot from the video.

“The design (looks) like animal cages on displays… Very inhumane,” commented Facebook user Anthony Woo.

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Beyond the dystopian lorry partitions, this episode also saw many netizens rethinking the very idea of transporting construction workers in lorries, a practice that is common in Singapore.

Some are concerned that the partitions could be dangerous.

The issue has turned into a debate among Singaporeans, as some think that the vehicle's conditions are reasonable.

One netizen even commented that the contraption was a “pretty creative” way of social distancing.

“I don't see anything wrong with this,” wrote Facebook user Joshua Ho. “This may look terrible but it's actually more comfortable than it looks… Nobody thinks of them as animals. Sitting in a lorry or army tonner does not make me an animal. Staying inside a small compartment for a short trip does not make me an animal.”

Aware of the public outcry it has incited, Shin Khai Construction, the company behind the controversial transport design, issued an apology on its Facebook page on Thursday, May 14.

“We regret to hear that the video might have portrayed the way we treated our workers as inhumane and without care,” its post reads, explaining that they were trying to find solutions to address the pandemic.

However, it appears that they still stand behind the contentious cubicle design. “We are appealing to the authority and hope our proposal will be considered,” they said.

The government has asked the company to review its proposed plan.

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