Singapore's health system and migrant workers explained
April 17, 2020 5:11 AM   Subscribe

The sharp increase in covid 19 cases in Singapore mainly among migrant workers in crammed dormitories is challenging the early gleaming image of the highly efficient healthcare system. New Naratif explains the reality of migrant workers in Singapore, widespread myths and facts about migrant workers, and the limits of a technocratic approach to healthcare (an indepth analysis of the system written just before the pandemic).
posted by dorothyisunderwood (12 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting. This is a really interesting examination of the ideological underpinnings of the oddly cobbled together system.

Lee Kuan Yew in 1981: "Social and health welfare are like opium or heroin. People get addicted, and withdrawal of welfare benefits is very painful."
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:52 AM on April 17


Perhaps some analogy to the Swedish situation, where the Somali community in Stockholm suburbs have been hardest hit. The government didn't think it necessary to communicate pandemic information beyond in Swedish and English.
posted by anthill at 8:09 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


New Naratif is great, btw, and covers the rest of Southeast Asia as well. Consider giving them your support!
posted by destrius at 8:49 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


It's pretty disturbing that in addition to the structural migrant underclass issues that they have a migrant worker caste system separated by nationality that seems to have some sort of official endorsement. Is there some sort of underlying racial theory about suitability to tasks?
posted by srboisvert at 11:05 AM on April 17


I enjoyed this piece in The Diplomat, and this one talking about the issue as well.

I moved here in January from Australia. I had known about the poor conditions of "helpers" (ie servants), but had no idea that virtually every municipal and construction worker was an immigrant getting paid a pittance with virtually no rights.

Singapore has more in common with cities like Abu Dhabi than I had initially thought. Expats I've met often rave about the lifestyle here, but they mostly seem blind to what fuels it. The foreign dorms are an Omelas.
posted by smoke at 6:08 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


technocratic efficiency is built on labor disposability: always been true here.

ime many "open-minded" singaporeans and expats pride themselves on treating their domestic helpers well, but have no qualms about 5% of the population living in 4.5sqm of space each. it's taken the threat of an overwhelmed (shared!) healthcare system to break that cognitive dissonance.

also of interest: the ministry is finding new ways to categorize non-citizens in every sitrep (and makes no pretense that work permit holders belong to the 'community').
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 8:50 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


This thread reminds me of the time my family stayed with my aunt and uncle in Singapore- he had some kind of high flying job there for a while and the apartment they lived in was in almost a resort. Very fancy part of town. It was still a small apartment, so I stayed in the "maid's quarters" off the kitchen- just a tiny cupboard-like room with no aircon (which was appreciated, but still!) but it definitely was finished to a different standard to the rest of the apartment.

It's interesting because Singapore definitely has a vibe that it's more egalitarian and not like "those other places" that have a clear class system. Obviously not.
posted by freethefeet at 9:50 PM on April 17


I think the discrimination largely stems from a colonial legacy. Singapore has always had a complicated relationship with its colonial past, and generally looks fondly towards "those days" while ignoring the exploitation that was happening. This is kind of what's happening now; I think in the subconscious of many Singaporeans, they see themselves as replacements of the white colonial masters, and foreign workers are the new subjects that are considered separate. There's also an underlying justification that the foreign workers are lucky to be here and that their lives are way worse back home, so it's okay that we don't treat them equally. Which is again a kind of colonial, white man's burden argument.
posted by destrius at 10:24 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


And yeah... I think of Omelas very often.
posted by destrius at 10:24 PM on April 17


destrius: This is kind of what's happening now; I think in the subconscious of many Singaporeans, they see themselves as replacements of the white colonial masters, and foreign workers are the new subjects that are considered separate. There's also an underlying justification that the foreign workers are lucky to be here and that their lives are way worse back home, so it's okay that we don't treat them equally. Which is again a kind of colonial, white man's burden argument.

Interesting! So something like colonialism still happens, we just force the colonial subjects to come to us. That way we can stay comfortably at home and in the majority. We don't have to take a dangerous journey to a place where we're a hated ruling minority. Much easier for us to force them take the dangerous journey to a place where they're a hated subject minority.
posted by clawsoon at 7:12 AM on April 18


Well in Singapore's case that's kind of what has always happened; the city was established by the British and grew from immigrants coming from other parts of Malaya, India, China, etc. And the ancestors of the majority of Singaporeans, in particular Chinese Singaporeans, were immigrants who took that dangerous journey to do back-breaking work for the British, living in squalid conditions while being segregated by race.

Ultimately I think the problem lies in how we view our history, which is something PJ Thum (the guy who started New Naratif) talks a lot about, being a historian. The colonial era is looked upon as a net positive, and all the stories we have of our subjugated ancestors are about plucky, resourceful people who took on the odds and came out successful. Hence few Singaporeans look upon British colonization as unjust*, and view the migrant workers here in the same lens: "just like our ancestors, you come here to work hard and if you do a good job your children will reap the benefits like us".

The forgotten detail, of course, is that we're only where we are today because we fought for our rights as full citizens of an independent nation, and in contrast the migrant workers here have few rights, no suffrage, and are required to leave Singapore once their work is done.

* I think the trick was to focus on the Japanese invaders during WWII as the true enemy; in most period dramas I remember as a kid, the Japanese were the bad guys, and the British were mostly okay but perhaps a bit incompetent in their defence of the island. So it seemed as if we declared independence from the British only because they weren't doing a very good job, and not because we actually wanted self-determination.
posted by destrius at 7:52 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]


Yes rightwing politicians like to be associated with the economic miracle of Singapore.
The Island is one of the busiest ports and airport hubs in the world and hence a major service centre.
However I suspect a lot of the Financial Services wealth is based on the corrupt tax avoidance and money laundering of neighbours Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunnei.
How good is the Singapore State pension scheme really? I suspect it under performs what a private scheme would do.
If Singapore economically falters these same rightwing politicians will claim too much government interference was the reason.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 10:16 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


« Older Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters   |   Office Noise Generator Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments